‘The Jungle Book’ Reinvented

Jon Favreau’s new production of The Jungle Book for Disney is nothing short of spectacular: a reinvention of the much-loved cartoon feature brought to life with taste, heart, and cutting-edge technology. When I heard composer John Debney’s rerecording of the Disney logo music, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a smile crossed my lips, and any doubts I had about combining a live-action Mowgli (Neel Sethi ) with CGI-rendered animals was dispelled within moments.

Much has changed since Walt Disney made his lighthearted animated film in 1967, and that too is reflected here. This is a much more intense film where life-and-death struggles are explicit, if not graphically depicted on camera. (I would urge parents of young children to heed the PG warning.) In place of George Sanders’ elegantly evil Shere Khan we have a much more ruthless villain, as voiced by the imposing Idris Elba.

Neel Sethi-The Jungle Book

(Courtesy of Disney)

But with Bill Murray inhabiting the character of Baloo the bear there is still plenty of room for fun; he’s a perfect choice. And grownups in the audience will get a kick out of hearing Christopher Walken in the role of King Louie. Both characters get to sing their signature tunes, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (the latter with newly-penned lyrics by Richard M. Sherman) in a deft transition from straightforward action to vaudeville-style performance. Kudos go, once again, to director Favreau and composer Debney for figuring out a way to incorporate these emblematic songs without making them seem out of place in the new environment of this Jungle Book.

Only the action climax seemed a bit protracted to me, but then, no one in 2016 would dare release a major feature film running a mere 68 minutes as Disney did in the late ‘60s. This is The Jungle Book for a new generation that doesn’t seek to obliterate the original; thank goodness. It’s a terrific piece of entertainment that I daresay would please Walt Disney himself.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024