– by Cecily Knobler, Live from Hollywood –
(Starring the voices of Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’)
When your source material is author Rudyard Kipling’s lovely and poignant collection of stories from the late 1800s, it’s pretty tough to mess up the subsequent adaptations. But believe me, Hollywood can mess anything up. And although they’ve been hit and miss with their efforts in telling this story, they absolutely got it right this time.
Director Jon Favreau was a stellar choice to helm this now live action/CGI mix of wonder and beauty. Let me tell you what else they got right: everything! Our opening shot is of the young boy Mowgli (played elegantly by young actor Neel Sethi) leaping and galloping through the jungle alongside a gray wolf pack. Shortly we realize he’s doing a test drill, run by his stern, beautiful panther friend Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley. From whom he is running we soon find out, but I’m not here to give spoilers. What I can tell you is that this allegorical masterpiece mixes tales of adventure, friendship, loyalty and most of all, what it means to be “man.” Tough to get much deeper than exploring humankind and our kinship to animals and nature. But if its profoundness isn’t enough, it adds humor and music in all the right moments.
Speaking of humor, Bill Murray voices Baloo the bear and I can’t think of a better choice. His subtle, sweet and dry rendition literally inspired me turn to my friend during the press screening and say “I wish I had a Baloo in my life. Actually, I wish I had a Bill Murray.” (And yes, the song “Bare Necessities” comes into play!) Chris Walken voices the menacing orangutan King Louie and again, while there’s some singing, they never dumb down any character’s dialogue or purpose. It all flows seamlessly and gently and not one minute is wasted or superfluous.
After the film, I interviewed a few kids who happened to be in the screening and some of them said they were scared at times. (They were nearly all in agreement that the snake that Mowgli becomes briefly enchanted by, as voiced by Scarlett Johansson, was terrifying.) But overall, even through their fear, they all seemed awestruck. So was I. It will linger in your mind far longer than its 106 minute running time and I can’t wait to see it again.