You can practically feel the beating heart of the jungle in Jon Favreau’s stunning adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” which is easily the most visually dazzling movie to hit theaters this year. Like “Avatar” before it, this CG and live action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of the boy raised by wolves feels like a momentous occasion in the technical advancements of big budget cinema.
From the thrill of a distant waterfall to the terror of a mudslide or stampeding buffalo, Favreau and his visual effects maestros have created artificial living things that truly look and feel real.
Even the animals’ ability to communicate in English seems as natural as their breathing and emoting. They have not been sanitized to be cute or less threatening either — even the tender mama wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).
They still look like wild animals and, for the most part, act like wild animals, too. At first, this actually makes their close interactions with the human boy Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) even more disarming. Eventually your nerves calm and you submit to the magic of this world.
The story follows the same beats as Disney’s animated feature from 1967, but Favreau and his team made sure to up the intensity a few notches — the hyperrealism of the animals necessitates it. The tension created by the fact that they all have claws and teeth and instinct to contend with is always there.
You’re already on edge by the time the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba, in a truly stunning vocal performance that’s both terrifying and relatable) enters the picture. He adamantly believes that humans should not be living among them and is prepared to use whatever intimidation tactics are necessary to rid their world of Mowgli. This sends the young boy on a journey to the human village with the stoic panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Anyone with the vaguest memory of “The Jungle Book” will remember the characters the boy encounters on the way — the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and the orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).
Although it is somewhat distracting to have such famous voices overwhelming every scene, each does a fine job — especially Murray, who brings a much-needed comedic lightness to the story with his affably conniving Baloo in the second act.
Sethi is energetic and enthusiastic as Mowgli — an adventurous kid who’s as unfazed by a handful of bee stings as he is a gargantuan snake. But for all the attention to detail, there’s an unnatural modernity to the dialogue he’s given that can be trying at times. For the most part he blends in as well as the sole human among wild CG animals could possibly be expected to.
On the subject of things seeming out of place, there are also two songs from the 1967 film that are integrated into the story — “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” (“Trust In Me” plays over the credits).
One works, and one really doesn’t. Murray makes “The Bear Necessities” fit into his laid back existence as he hums and sings the song with Mowgli as they float down a serene river. “I Wanna Be Like You,” however, is awkward and clumsy — a ditty of a song that comes out of nowhere and sucks the air out of the crucial climax. It makes no sense in the context of this world that Walken’s mob boss ape would just break into song. And, if he did, it definitely wouldn’t be this song.
Indeed, much of the third act feels more like a check list than plot advancement, and the emotional arc neither lives up to its source material nor the beauty of the visuals. Still, it is one of the stronger of Disney’s live-action adaptations and executed with such sincerity and technical prowess and inspiring ingenuity that it’s more promising than anything else — a true family-friendly adventure that’s smart and often thrilling.
“The Jungle Book,” a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some sequences of scary action and peril.” Running time: 105 minutes. Three stars out of four.
LOS ANGELES: Disney’s “The Jungle Book” will dominate the US box office this weekend, opening in the $70 million range while “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” continues its fast fade at multiplexes.
The live-action-CG hybrid, directed by Jon Favreau, is launching at 4,028 domestic venues with critics having embraced the movie with some of the best reviews of the year for a studio production. It currently has a score of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Disney is so confident about the impending success of the family film — which carries a $175 million budget — that it’s already started developing a sequel. The studio is in talks with Favreau, screenwriter Justin Marks and producer Brigham Taylor to return.
Should “The Jungle Book” hit $75 million, it would match Disney’s animated hit “Zootopia” for the third-best opening of the year after “Batman v Superman” at $166 million and “Deadpool” at $132.4 million.
“The Jungle Book” is the latest in Disney’s live-action reimagining of classic stories, following “Alice in Wonderland,” “Maleficent,” “Oz” and “Cinderella” — which took in $67.9 million in its opening weekend last year on its way to a $201.2 million domestic total and a $542.7 million global cume.
“Maleficent” opened two years ago with $69.4 million on its way to a $241.4 million domestic total and $758.5 million worldwide.
“The Jungle Book” will open at more than 3,100 locations which offer 3D, including 376 Imax sites. Previews begin at 7 pm on Thursday.
The low end of estimates is around $65 million. With 63% of international territories opening, the international take should be near $75 million.
“The Jungle Book” grossed $28.9 million during the past weekend in a number of Asian and Latin American territories, including $7.6 million from India — the second highest industry opening for an American release. Besides the US launch on Friday, “The Jungle Book” will also debut this weekend in China, Brazil, France and Mexico.
The movie is based on the Rudyard Kipling stories about Mowgli, an abandoned human boy who becomes friends with jungle animals after being raised by wolves. Disney released an animated version in 1967.
Favreau’s film includes Bill Murray voicing Baloo the bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the panther, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the snake and Lupita Nyong’o as the mother wolf Raksha. Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli.
The third weekend of “Batman v Superman” was edged last weekend by about $240,000 by Universal’s launch of Melissa McCarthy’s “The Boss” at $23.6 million. Both titles have received poor reviews and should decline by at least 50 percent this weekend.
Warner Bros.’ superhero mash-up topped the $298 million domestic mark on Monday, its 18th day, and should cross the $300 million milestone on Wednesday.
MGM-New Line’s comedy sequel “Barber Shop: The Next Cut” should also generate solid business in its opening weekend with at least $25 million at about 2,600 sites. Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Jazsmin Lewis, Sean Patrick Thomas and Eve have been in all three films with Common, Regina Hall and Nicki Minaj joining “The Next Cut.” (Agencies)
MGM oversaw production and Warner Bros is handling distribution. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore, said “The Jungle Book” and “Barbershop” have been scheduled smartly. (Agencies).
By Lindsey Bahr