“The Jungle Book” Shines, but where’s Kipling?

by Kayna Stout

Disney’s latest iteration of The Jungle Book, about “boy-cub” Mowgli (Neel Sethi), raised by animals, and basking in the mythological, adventure-fraught forest, is turning heads of moviegoers. Mowgli’s refreshing backseat position to assertive mammals, combined with Director Jon Favreau‘s imaginative use of live-action/CGI formatted in Dolby Vision, will earn over $1 billion in ticket sales.

Jungle Book is a visual feast, and not just a kids’ movie; adults can enjoy it with no kids in tow. You wouldn’t mind toddlers asking umpteen loud questions during The SpongeBob Movie, but during this one hour and 47-minute story, too many “That elephant is big” is a definite disrupter. Young and old, however, are awed by technology allowing real animals to interact with a real seven year old boy. It’s as seamless as a magician’s slight of hand, and Disney’s 1967 version is no match for this visual masterpiece, if not compelling narrative.

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Unlike the static dioramas of the New York Museum of Natural History, canopies of trees yield endless possibilities for swinging, climbing, tumbling, and conversing with forest animals in a non-cartoon format. The child actor, Neel Sethi, is as much a wonder as the talking animals. He’s believable as a member of a wolf pack. The magic of moviemaking permeates the theater intermittently.

This elation fades in and out, however, as junglebookFavreau struggles to do the writer Rudyard Kipling justice. The director fares as well as anyone working against the Disney tendency of over-simplification. He manages to raise questions about human domination of nature, and suggest what animals might tell us if they could about our impact on the planet. Enjoy the movie, but revisit the books lest the richer story be forgotten.

The highest compliment I can give a movie is to return a second time, and this film has earned it. Such is confirmed by Metacritic’s score of 77 out of 100, based on 49 critics, placing it in the favorable-review category.

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