Disney’s new version of The Jungle Book resembles Rudyard Kipling’s fin-de-siècle collection of stories about as much as its 1967 animated version did, which is to say, virtually not at all. The older film is charming, the new one is extravagant, and both ignore Kipling’s belief that the law of the jungle, despite its necessary Circle of Life brutalities, is still more just than the laws of man.
To those who know this tale, all your friends are here, voiced by Ben Kingsley, Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken as King Louie, an orangutan created by Disney in 1967, even though there are none in India (a word not spoken in this new film). Neel Sethi, a charismatic newcomer, portrays the “man cub” Mowgli. They mix it up in a bombastic action adventure punctuated by specks of tenderness and reflection, with plenty of fights, and a conflagration to climax it all.
And two songs. Yes, Disney steals from itself and twice turns its new Jungle Book (directed by Jon Favreau) into a fleeting musical. I loved these songs in the ’60s film, but they’re so out of place here that it’s almost embarrassing. Still, the stop-motion and CGI technology is beguiling, and you will believe a wolf can talk. In 3-D, in select theaters