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Review: The Jungle Book: What a fun movie!

Neel Sethi in The Jungle BookThe characters drawn for the 2016 film have an edge that wasn't present in the 1967 version.
This is perhaps why The Jungle Book has been given an U/A certificate in India.
For once, Pahlaj Nihalani may be right, feels Aseem Chhabra.

Disney's 1967 animated The Jungle Book -- a charming, delightful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book -- is imprinted in my mind as if it is a narrative of my own life story.

There is a personal reason for that.

In the 1990s, my son, now in his mid-20s, loved the film and would play its VHS tape on a loop. I have lost count of the times I watched that film, but on this rare occasion, the adult in me was equally enthralled by a film that so appealed to my child.

The seductive voice of Sterling Holloway as Kaa, the snake (he also gave the voice to Winnie the Pooh) singing Trust in Me as if it was a jazz club lounge number is a great example of how some of the films produced by the Walt Disney company were so creative and artistic.

And who can forget the joyful The Bare Necessities in the voice of Phil Harris (as Ballo, the bear) and Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli, the man cub and the protagonist of the tale).

The song and its composer, Terry Gilkyson, was nominated for an Oscar.

So the purist in me was rather dismissive about the news the Disney was updating The Jungle Book making it into a live-action film with one actor (Neel Sethi, an Indian-American kid from New York City) and with a star cast (Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson among others) lending their voices to CGI-created animals.

But I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book is a hugely entertaining film with a nod to the 1967 classic, but yet very different in mood and texture.

The new film, based on Justin Marks' screenplay (his only feature film credit to date is the 2009 Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li), is a thrilling adventure that will remind viewers of the edge-of-the-seat moments from films like steven Spielberg's The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park (the first one) and Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong.

Under Favreau's guidance The Jungle Book -- entirely shot in the Disney studios in the suburbs of Los Angeles -- is the right product for our times.

Today's audience, including children, teenagers and even adults, have been exposed to realistic computerised images with a healthy dosage of violence and gore, in the form of video games.

With the Jungle Book, Favreau and his technical team (there were hundreds listed in the credits -- with many Indian sounding names, indicating a lot of post production work may have been done in India) have given us the best possible narrative cinema using today's cutting edge technology.

The film is realistic looking so it is very believable that we are somewhere in a jungle in India and not in a studio in California.

The plot of the film is more or less the same as that of the animated work, with a minor change to the ending.

Mowgli (the adorable Sethi was a real find for Disney), a young boy abandoned in a jungle is raised by a pack of wolves. Hence, he is referred to as a man cub. He is watched over by Bageera, the kind panther (Kingsley with a very statesman-like presence).

Life is good for Mowgli, until the menacing Shere Khan (a terrifying Elba) decides he wants to eat the child. Mowgli is forced to run, but along the way he meets some amazing colourful characters Kaa (Johansson), Ballo (Murray) and a humongous orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).

The characters drawn for the 2016 live action film have an edge that was not present in the 1967 animated film.

Shere Khan in the new film is genuinely scary at times, especially how he leaps across the screen in 3D and his roar accentuated by the digitally enhance Dolby Atmos sound is frightening.

This is perhaps why the film has been given a PG certificate in the US (according to the MPAA the film has 'some sequences of scary action and peril') and an U/A certificate in India.

Indian Censor Board Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani was quoted as saying 'The 3D effects are so scary that the animals seem to jump right at the audience.'

As has become a regular practice, Nihalani was mocked on Twitter, but I have to admit that for once he is right.

Kaa in Johansson's voice becomes a female snake, although one could say that Holloway had a soft gentle voice -- the cause of a lot of speculation that the voiceover actor may have been gay or bisexual.

Many observers noted Kipling's racist text and how King Louie was presented in the 1967 film. Critics and others actually took offense to the way the jive-talking Louie sang I Want To Be Like to Mowgli, given that Kipling was an apologist for the empire (he wrote the poem The White Man's Burden).

But now King Louie is no longer a dancing giant monkey.

As created by Favreau's animators, the upgraded Louie (with a definite nod to Marlon Brando's Colonel Walter Kurtz in Apocalypse Now), speaking in Walken's voice, is a menacing terror who along with his army of monkeys provides one of the best action sequences in the film.

Murray and Sethi get to reprise The Bare Necessities and one can tell they are having so much fun. A recent video of the two performing on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show is a telling example of how beautifully Favreau's film captures the jazzy moments of the 1967 animated film.

I have one request. Everyone should stay seated through the end credits. For that is when you will get to hear Scarlett Johansson sing Trust in Me. Her voice is so smooth, sultry and sexy. That song alone is worth the price of admission.

Rediff Rating: