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Front Page - Friday, April 29, 2016

Forget about your worries and see ‘The Jungle Book’

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

After seeing “The Jungle Book,”  I had the sunshiny, bounce-in-your-step feeling you get when you see a good Disney movie, especially when a catchy pop song plays over the end credits. But even as I bounced, I could feel a proverbial pebble in my shoe letting me know the film has its faults.

I’ll start with the good stuff, as there’s a lot of it. As many of you might remember, from either reading the Rudyard Kipling collective works as a child or seeing Disney’s animated classic, “The Jungle Book” tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned boy raised by animals. As he sets out on a journey of self-discovery, he must avoid the tiger Shere Kahn, who wants to kill him.

Filmed almost entirely on a sound stage, and containing copious amounts of breathtaking CGI, “The Jungle Book” is a treat for the eyes. Thick vines hang from ancient trees, burnt orange sunsets serve as wistful backdrops for open plains, and giant waterfalls cascade over cliff edges and crash into the churning waters below. I viewed the film in 3D on an IMAX screen, and savored the level of detail the artists put into creating and animating the environments.

The animals are just as impressive. While the animation is not quite as realistic as the real thing, in “The Jungle Book,” it’s as close as it’s ever gotten, and the rendering is phenomenal. There’s a scene in which Baloo, a sloth bear that befriends Mowgli, is swimming on his back, with the boy sitting on his tummy. You can actually see the bear’s fur moving with the currents under the surface of the water. That’s the kind of attention to detail that brings a world and its characters to life.

Credit director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “Elf,” and Monica’s millionaire boyfriend on “Friends”) with leading the team that assembled this visual feast. I also give Favreau credit for a great deal of what makes “The Jungle Book” fun to watch. The scenes in which Mowgli speeds through the jungle – darting across branches and grabbing vines and leaping and swinging from tree to tree – are among my favorites. I especially enjoyed how Favreau’s camera circled around and over and under the boy in an thrilling display of craftsmanship.

For all of the technical bravado on display, though, the best part of “The Jungle Book” are the voice actors. Whoever put together this cast nailed it. Bill Murray is pitch perfect as Baloo, and delivered what each scene needed, whether it was gentle encouragement, a word of warning, or a joke. Best of all, while I could tell Murray was doing the voice, I didn’t see Murray sitting at a microphone reading his lines. Rather, he really sank into Baloo and got all cuddly in his fur, which erased the barriers between his performance and the animated character on the screen.

As good as Murray was, if someone asked me what I liked the most about “The Jungle Book,” I would tell them Christopher Walken’s hilarious performance as King Louie, a humungous orangutan. Simply put, no one does a better Christopher Walken impression than Christopher Walken. Favreau handles the reveal of Louie perfectly, letting us hear the voice before we see the massive mound of soft tissue it inhabits.

I mentioned short comings. There are only a few. One is the performance of child actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli. A friend of mine thought the kid did a great job, but I thought he was just OK. His dialogue often sounds like it was inserted between the other actor’s lines, and he’s rarely on the same emotional keel as the animals around him. So, instead of Sethi having conversations, he sounds like he spouted his lines one at a time without capturing the nuances each the scene. This is more than a nitpick; it became a real distraction at times.

I also thought Favreau’s “Jungle Book” strikes an odd balance between realism and imagination. The jungle looks real; Favreau and his team didn’t apply a coat of fantasy gloss. So when a giant orangutan shows up and breaks into song, it’s more than a little jarring.

Still, what a fun and well-made movie. You’ll likely leave the theater like I did - happy, and with a bounce in your step. You might not even notice the pebble in your shoe.

Three stars out of four. Rated PG for scary action and peril.

Viewer’s tip: If you see “The Jungle Book,” stay seated during the end credits. They’re great!

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.