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INDIA — If you're planning a family outing to the movie theater this weekend, there’s a good chance “The Jungle Book” is on your radar.
Director John Favreau’s live-action take on both Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories and the 1967 Disney animated classic is finally finding its way to audiences, and it’s definitely a pretty film to look at. But does the idea of an abandoned man-cub and his talking animal friends pop against a hyper-realistic setting? And, is the latest Disney remake safe for all ages?
Like always, let’s chat about the highlights:
If you’re already familiar with Disney’s 1967 film, or you just want to avoid spoilers in general, go ahead and skip to the next topic.
For those still reading this section, “The Jungle Book” begins with an orphaned man-cub, Mowgli (Neel Sethi), and the family of wolves who take him in. When Shere Khan the Tiger (Idris Elba) threatens war with anyone who protects the young human, Mowgli’s friend and mentor Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) offers to accompany him to the only place in the jungle where a human child can be safe — the man village.
Mowgli’s not really interested in becoming a fire-wielding man, however. In fact, he’d rather spend his time learning the bear necessities from his smooth talking friend Baloo (Bill Murray). But when Mowgli receives news that Shere Khan is punishing the wolves who helped the man-cub escape, Mowgli knows he must return to his pack and confront the seemingly unstoppable tiger once and for all.
“The Jungle Book” is gorgeous.
At its best, you might believe you’re watching a National Geographic documentary about a boy who lives in the jungle with talking animals. At it’s worst, you’ll notice some pretty good computer animation someone tried to force into that documentary you’re watching about a boy living in the jungle with talking animals.
Up until now, 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” has been the gold standard for humans interacting with talking animals. That absolutely changes this weekend, when the world gets its first look at Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”
As we covered above, “The Jungle Book” doesn’t stray too far from Disney’s 1967 classic when it comes to plot. However, Favereau makes an effort to block his version into individual chapters that on some level work as their own short stories.
This goes a long way in making the movie feel like a nighttime storybook, which in turn, makes the experience feel approachable to younger kids — something we’ll discuss a bit more in the next section.
Anyone who enjoys a slightly shorter attention span might not care about Mowgli’s overall conflict with Shere Khan. In fact, that story is almost completely forgotten halfway through the movie and not picked up again until the very end. But those of us with short-spans will enjoy the story about Mowgli and Kaa, or the story where Mowgli helps Baloo get honey, or the story of Mowgli and King Louie.
It’s an approach I suspect is showing respect to Kipling’s original works, and it’s one that makes the almost two-hour film not feel like an almost two-hour film.
The family film
If you’re wondering about offensive content, there are no potty mouths in Mowgli’s part of the jungle. And while all the non-human characters choose not to wear any clothing, “The Jungle Book” gets a zero in the sexiness department as well.
Where “The Jungle Book” stumbles a bit however, both in the family-friendly department and as an overall movie experience, is in its constantly shifting tones. What mostly feels like a child’s storybook sometimes moves into very real, very threatening imagery. This makes sense given the live-action nature of the story, but it also sometimes shifts the movie from family-friendly to action-adventure.
For some kids and many moviegoers, this won’t be an issue — this is hardly a knockout blow to the film’s otherwise enjoyable status. But the sometimes abrupt transitions are noticeable and possibly enough to keep your favorite man-cubs away from the big screen.
With the exception of a few intense and possibly frightening scenes for the little ones, “The Jungle Book” will make for a great family outing. The movie plays out in storybook fashion, the characters are easy to love and the message is simple and worthwhile.
With all of the lazy, straight-to-DVD-quality movies being passed off as family entertainment these days, it’s great to see so much talent stand behind “The Jungle Book.”
If you’re planning on checking it out this weekend, at the very least your eyes will thank you for the experience. And if technology isn’t your thing, Mowgli rocking out to “The Bear Necessities” should at least make you smile. That’s worth matinee prices, isn’t it?
Travis Poppleton has been covering movie news, film reviews and live events for Deseret News and KSL.com since 2010 and co-hosts the FlixJunkies podcast. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.