You might know the story and the cartoon, but you better be prepared for this darker take on The Jungle Book.
Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli – a young boy saved by the panther Bagheera (voice by Ben Kingsley) and raised by wolves.
While life in the jungle is never easy, this dry season has been one of the worst, which leads to a truce among the animals. However, one sees an opportunity for revenge.
The tiger Shere Khan (voice by Idris Elba) was burned and partially blinded years ago by a man, so he wants to devour Mowgli in an act of revenge and because he believes the young boy will soon grow to be a destructive man like those that are endangering the jungle every day.
For the child’s protection, Bagheera agrees it is time to return the boy to the village on the outskirts of the jungle, but Shere Khan is taking extreme measures to capture Mowgli at any cost.
Can Bagheera and Mowgli survive this trek through the dangerous terrain?
Yes, he does meet up with a bear named Baloo (voice by Bill Murray), but this is not quite like The Jungle Book movie you remember from childhood.
This live action version (with plenty of CGI) from director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks (based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling) is more dangerous and action packed, which makes this Jungle Book a thrilling, frightening series of chases, battles and characters facing the ultimate demise at every turn. Everything in nature wants to kill you, and this movie is a helpful reminder of that.
Elba is perfectly menacing as the tiger hungry for vengeance, and he makes Shere Khan such an imposing figure even adults might be having nightmares after this. No matter how much you might love Elba, each and every audience member can toss that aside and see this character as a great villain thanks to him.
Meanwhile, Bill Murray steals the show as Baloo, which you knew would happen. He provides amazing comic relief when kids (and slightly traumatized adults) need it, but adds the soul Baloo needs to have in those key moments where the character is growing and evolving.
In many ways, Murray is forced to create the bridge between the old version and the new version, but truly excels when the material supports his performance, which flows so well into the darker, modern version of the story.
I know many will want to hear the songs from the original, and two show up here, but they feel out of place with the rest of the film’s tone. This is a more real Jungle Book, and those songs are pandering.
The special effects are mind blowing as we see animals coming to life on the screen and characterized by an excellent cast, while Favreau does a wonderful job capturing the danger at every turn and making each chase and battle for life and death epic in scope.
Keep in mind, The Jungle Book might be a bit too frightening for little kids, even if they know the words to Bare Necessities. The film probably works better for those 10 and up who have a stronger constitution.
3 ½ Waffles (Out of 4)
The Jungle Book is rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.