Review: “The Jungle Book”

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 31, 2016 in / No Comments

 

Jon Favreau has his passion projects, and then he has his passion projects. Take his last film, “Chef”, a fairly light under-the-radar dramedy with the writer/director in the starring role as a sought after culinary wizard who departs from a trendy high-end restaurant to open a food truck. Now look at “The Jungle Book”, an impossibly great big-budget knockout that already has a sequel in the works. Favreau has had success in the mainstream directing the first two “Iron Man” films, the driving force behind the entire “Avengers” franchise, but “The Jungle Book” and its only human star, Neel Sethi, blow it all that out of the water. Hiss if you will, but the 1967 animated feature is one of my least favorite Disney films of that era. Now Rudyard Kipling’s classic book gets the live-action treatment, with Sethi as man-cub Mowgli, Ben Kingsley voicing his panther guardian Bagheera and Idris Elba as the fierce tiger villain Shere Khan. It takes a minute to get used to the animals speaking, at first a contrast to just how real the CGI looks, but THE JUNGLE BOOKseems  completely natural before you know it. It’s not long before the jungle becomes a completely absorbing, if surreal, place. All that said, perhaps the most unexpected part of this spectacle is that despite it’s realistic, sometimes scary tone, the film preserves the cartoon’s two most precious musical numbers—a Sethi/Murray duet of “The Bare Necessities”, and Christopher Walken as gigantic ape King Louie performing “I Wanna Be Like You”. The ape seeks fire—or the Red Flower, as it’s referred to among the jungle creatures—the same element for which Shere Khan seeks revenge against humans. With both of those characters in mind, the voice casting couldn’t be more spot-on: Elba is thoroughly intimidating as the tiger (probably too much so for some younger audiences), and Walken channels his “King of New York” animus to generate the enormous simian mobster. With Bill Murray as bear friend Baloo, there’s never a dull moment—heck, the man made “Garfield” watchable—the main conduit between Sethi and the  digital world that surrounds him. The newcomer does an amazing job, and I won’t even attempt to analyze the technical feat that he’s a part of in this completely immersive experience. Other voices include Lupita Nyong’o as the mother wolf who raised Mowgli, and Scarlett Johansson as the iconic python who contributes brief exposition into the Mowgli/Shere Khan rivalry as written by Justin Marks. A sequel and live-action version of “The Lion King” are on their way.

—M. Parsons

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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