“The Jungle Book” – A vibrant, delightful update of a classic tale

Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray, and Mowgli, played by Neel Sethi, appear in a scene from Walt Disney's live-action adaptation of "The Jungle Book." (AP)

Those who embrace friendship and bravery are destined to succeed in “The Jungle Book” from director Jon Favreau, Disney’s colorful, charming live-action adaptation of their 1967 animated classic. Featuring beautifully realistic, detailed CGI animals and environments, the film expands upon the story established by its predecessor while transporting audiences to a lush, fantastic world of adventure.

Timothy Hogg

Timothy Hogg

Deep in the jungles of India, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub, a human child raised by a pack of wolves, who follows the laws of the jungle under the careful guidance of a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). But when the human-hating tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), learns of Mowgli’s presence, the tiger vows to kill the child. Now Bagheera must go to great lengths, with the help of a bear, Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), to convince Mowgli to leave the jungle he calls home.

Following Disney’s recent trend of live-action remakes of their animated classics, “The Jungle Book” takes a story that many are familiar with, utilizing modern film-making techniques to bring the adventure to life in a new, grand way. Initially, audiences are greeted by some of the most-realistic, breathtaking computer-generated characters and environments seen in a movie. While photo-realistic backgrounds have become easier to achieve, animals usually remain a more difficult challenge; people know how animals look and move, making the illusion easier to spot.

In “The Jungle Book,” the animators have crafted breathing, fluid animals that have weight and inertia in their movements. They look and act like the animals one would see in a wildlife documentary, which adds to the overall effectiveness of new actor Neel Sethi’s performance; Mowgli is the only human character in the film, and he feels perfectly natural alongside his computer-generated costars.

To great effect, the success of the special effects has produced an immersive story, one that makes the audience more receptive to the changes Disney has made. Overall, the story remains fairly close to the original, but the few alterations allow for improvement and greater overarching themes, especially in regard to the environmental impact of man. The result is a grand, adventurous film that is not afraid to deviate from the expected story while staying true to its messages.

But as the filmmakers put their own spin on the plot, they occasionally run into minor snags. Specifically, they have attempted to make the situation more serious and darker, while at the same time trying to maintain the happy, musical feel of the original film. This can be slightly jarring, as the characters erratically slip between light-hearted and dark moments. The decision is not detrimental overall, but it gives the impression that no one was able to agree on an overall tone.

Combining breathtaking CGI visuals with performances that are both deeply enjoyable and moving, director Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” successfully expands upon its classic Disney predecessor. The film takes several creative liberties, never afraid to deviate from the established path, and is able to present audiences with a story that feels fresh and new, while at the same time familiar.

My grade: 8 out of 10 stars.

(Timothy Hogg is a copy editor for The Derrick./The News-Herald. He has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at timothyhogg.thederrick@gmail.com.)