WILD & FREE: Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and Baloo (Bill Murray) keeping a sharp look-out.
Loyalty, family and friendship rank high among the most powerful universal themes explored in the movies. Watching the new Jon Favreau-directed remake of The Jungle Book, a spectacular achievement, one is reminded of this. Action-packed and dazzling, the film moves at a break-neck pace, challenging us to keep up.
But it’s also heartfelt and humorous and anchored by an emotionally intelligent performance from young Neel Sethi, a gem of a discovery, who takes to the role of precocious man-cub Mowgli like it’s a part he was born to play. You root for him as he makes one narrow escape after another and proves that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Of course, The Jungle Book is a Disney adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s literary classic that takes us deep into the wild. It’s about a boy who, after his father is killed by ferocious tiger Shere Khan (played with heart-pounding menace by Idris Elba), is discovered by thoughtful panther Bagheera (a non-nonsense Ben Kingsley), who turns him over to a pack of wolves who raise him as one of their own. In no time Mowgli morphs into a mini Tarzan making the jungle his own, thanks to survival lessons from wolf leaders Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and Bagheera who regularly checks up on his progress.
But danger is never more than a stone’s throw away, and when Shere Khan gets wind of Mowgli’s presence in the jungle, he will stop at nothing to kill the boy. His guardians set in motion a plan to get him to the ‘man village’ and out of harm’s way. That’s how Mowgli meets Baloo (Bill Murray, hilarious), a giant of a lazy bear. The two become fast friends and a fierce team against the relentless Shere Khan.
Working with screenwriter Justin Marks, Favreau (the auteur behind hits like Iron Man) takes the beloved storybook tale and transforms it into a CGI-filled live-action epic that consistently awes and comes together in an exotic, hugely enjoyable package – armies of fleet-footed monkeys, majestic elephants and other talking creatures, skyscraping trees and golden sunsets and fire as “the red flower.”
The supporting cast ain’t too shabby either, with terrific voice-work appearances by, among others, Scarlett Johannson (as the monstrous serpent Kaa) and Christopher Walken (as orangutan kingpin Louis).
Home is where the heart is, they say, and in the case of courageous Mowgli that sentiment rings hauntingly true. Finding family (and lessons to last a lifetime) in the unlikeliest of places, he discovers friendship and loyalty, too. Tyrone’s Verdict: A