Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Jungle Book

Disney's new, live-action/CGI update of their 1967 cartoon classic; this time, they opted for a live Mowgli (Neel Sethi), working with a natural world made live through actors mimicking animals using motion-capture VFX, augmented by Jim Henson Company puppets, and "locations" created through computer-generated VFX. Director Jon Favreau wrangles it all into a highly entertaining rendering of the Rudyard Kipling story (look for scars in the shape of an "r" on Mowgli's chest and a "k" on his left shoulder as a salute to the author).
As you will remember, Mowgli is an orphaned "man-child," found by a panther named Bagheera (played with military dignity by Ben Kingsley), who takes the boy to be raised by a pack of wolves, headed by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o). One day at the watering hole, Mowgli is discovered by Shere Khan (a menacingly evil Idris Elba), a tiger with a hatred of men and a penchant for murder. Mowgli's life suddenly in danger, Bagheera spirits the boy away, in hopes of dropping him off at the man-village, with Shere Khan in hot pursuit. The friends become separated and Mowgli begins an adventure of self-discovery in which he encounters creatures both lethal and buffoonish, including the python, Kaa (a sultry, sinister Scarlett Johansson), Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray, playing Bill Murray), and a gigantic orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken, sounding like a Bronx mafioso). Naturally, creatures and events hurtle toward an exciting conclusion.
The Jungle Book has met with raves by both critics and audiences, whose only consistent criticism is that of changing the gender of Kaa, the python. Favreau explains that the character list was top-heavy with males, which begs the question: why make the deadly trickster a female when he could have done the same with the brave badass panther, Bagheera? Make no mistake, Ben Kingsley is wonderful in the role, but, after all, the female big cats are the hunters.
Speaking of performances, Murray and Walken were inspired casting choices, their voices and personalities perfectly matching their characters. Their only drawback comes when they are asked to sing iconic tunes originally performed by iconic voices--Walken's "I Wanna Be Like You" pales in comparison with Louie Prima's 1967 rendition; Murray's "Bare Necessities" is done in by the ill-advised decision to allow Sethi--who couldn't carry a tune in the Ganges Basin--to hijack the duet, taking it into cringeworthy realms. The only other song from the original is Scar-Jo's coolly mesmerizing "Trust in Me," which plays over the end credits. After her performance as Kaa, which follows her work as the computer Samantha in Her, it's fair to say that Johansson could make a career in voice work, but who would want that? Special note should be made of Garry Shandling, excellent in his last role as the cute and quirky porcupine, Ikki.
Less impressive are Esposito and Nyong'o as the wolfpack leaders, who are uninspired and forgettable. Perhaps it is unfair, comparing their voice work to big personalities like Murray, Walken, Elba, and Kingsley, but there it is. Twelve-year-old Neel Sethi is adorable, but he rarely moves beyond line-recitation--to be fair, nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay's brilliant performance in Room may still be too fresh in my mind.
This is a very good movie that both children and adults will enjoy. But if you are able, find the 1967 cartoon version.

2016 version: 7.5 out of 10.
1967 version: 10 out of 10.

I'm sorry this review is late.  My researcher, Guy S. Malone, Researcher, has been severely injured.  The poor fellow was wandering a meadow and fell on some pears, causing several deep lacerations between his shoulder blades, a mysterious accident because A) there were no pears around to cause the fall, and 2) typically, pears do not cause deep incisions, no matter how hard you fall on them. Police are baffled.

I feel terrible because only twenty minutes earlier he and I quarreled over the fact that he had not provided background material for my Love and Friendship review.  He claimed I had never told him I wanted it.  However true it may be, it is no excuse for negligence.  Will my travails never end?
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