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With: Neel Sethi, (voices) Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling
Written by: Justin Marks, based on a book by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by: Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating: PG for some sequences of scary action and peril
Running Time: 106
Date: 04/15/2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Perfect Baloo

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jon Favreau returns to the kid-friendly films he made earlier in his career (Elf and Zathura) and finds he still has a gift for breezy, good-looking, beautifully-paced, and well-told stories. His The Jungle Book owes a bit to the 1967 Disney animated feature, but is arguably closer to Kipling than that earlier film.

The delightful Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli, who is born in the jungle, rescued by black panther black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and raised by wolves (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o and Giancarlo Esposito). When the evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) begins hunting him, it is decided that he must leave the jungle and live with humans. But when he runs into goofy, laid-back bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), he learns to be himself. An episode in which he is kidnapped by the monkey king Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) gives him what he needs to stop Shere Khan.

Favreau's film is longer than the cartoon, allowing for more time to hang out with the characters; he avoids too much silliness (aside from Murray's lackadaisical line readings), and gives emphasis to the shapes and spaces of the jungle itself. There are simplified versions of the songs "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You," but they are more toned down, as if characters were just singing for fun, rather than breaking into musical numbers. The finale, as Mowgli runs through the jungle with the "red flower," is truly dazzling, and it will make you forget that the movie is largely computer-generated. On the contrary, it feels amazingly organic.

Disney's Blu-ray release looks spectacular, and includes a Favreau commentary track as well as three featurettes. It comes with a bonus DVD and a digital copy.

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