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Movie Night – ‘Jungle Book’ presents movie magic at finest

By Bradley Griffith

Forget about your worries and your strife! One of the best things about the newest film adaptation of the classic novel by Rudyard Kipling is that for a couple of hours you will actually forget about any problems in your life as you enjoy the magic of “The Jungle Book.”

Everyone knows the basic story.  Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub in the jungle.  Found as a child in the jungle by panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and taken to a pack of wolves to be raised, Mowgli is the only man-cub living in the jungle.  Unfortunately for Mowgli, the law of the jungle forbids humans.

Despite the prohibition of humans in the jungle, wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) takes Mowgli as her very own child to raise alongside her wolf pups.  When the movie begins Mowgli is approximately seven years old and is trying to learn the ways of the wolf.  He’s not as fast or agile as a wolf, but he’s smarter and often resorts to using his cunning intellect to avoid would-be predators rather than any physical prowess.  Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), the alpha male of the wolf pack, admonishes Mowgli for not using the wolf way.

As the dry season arrives the creeks, rivers, and lakes dry up to almost nothing.  The main watering hole for the jungle becomes so low that the peace rock is revealed by the receding waters.  According to local law, as long as the peace rock is visible above the water there exists a truce in the jungle.  All animals, big and small, prey and predator alike, are free to drink from the water without any fear of being attacked or eaten.  Rhinos, monkeys, gazelle, wildebeest, wolves, and animals of all kinds gather at the water’s edge to drink their fill without fear.  Because drinking is more important than eating.

Then Shere Khan (Idris Elba) arrives at the watering hole.  Shere Khan is a tiger, massive and intimidating.  Every animal in the jungle lives in fear of the mighty Shere Khan.  When he arrives at the watering hole he detects the scent of a human.  Shere Khan demands that the man-cub be given to him.  When the Akela refuses, Shere Khan swears revenge on Mowgli for the sins of his father.

Far and away the best part of the film is the special effects.  All of the animals appear natural and life-like even as they are speaking, singing, and dancing.  The ability to create these computer-generated images and blend them seamlessly with a human actor is no less than amazing.  The story of “The Jungle Book” could not be told without truly special effects.  The film is movie magic at its finest.

As much as the movie relied upon great special effects, it also relied upon a convincing performance from an unknown child actor.  The filmmakers cast Neel Sethi, a newcomer to the movie scene, as the only human actor of any importance in the movie.  Sethi was required to perform with computer-generated images, something that is difficult for a seasoned actor to accomplish.  Yet, Sethi was great.  He was likable, lovable, and believable as Mowgli, the man-cub who causes nothing but trouble for the jungle.

Idris Elba, Ben  Kingsley, Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo the bear, Christopher Walken as King Louie the orangutan, and many others were spot-on as the voice cast.  Elba was menacing and dangerous while Murray was lovable and goofy, each perfect for their characters.  Scarlett Johansson has one very memorable scene as Kaa, a gigantic python.

Except for one or two scenes that may be a little scary for younger viewers, “The Jungle Book” is a movie the entire family can enjoy.  Everyone is likely to leave the theater with a smile on their face.

Grade: B+

Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.