Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book follows the ascension of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphaned “man-cub” rescued by a benevolent panther, voiced with an aloof British keenness by Ben Kingsley. Struggling to assimilate to his jungle milieu, young Mowgli is thrust into becoming like a wolf, as he’s taken in by nurturing wolves, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). The story turns when the despotic tiger, Shere Khan—driven apparently by an unquenchable hatred of Man, who is responsible for his burnt face—vows to annihilate the boy at any cost. Voiced with zestful malice by Idris Elba, Sher Khan is among the best of Disney villains. Mowgli flees the jungle to prevent the slaughter of his pack, beginning a journey of bizarre and hazardous happenings. Throughout we learn that this “man-cub” is no ordinary, happy-go-lucky boy, not the run of the mill child protagonist with a heart of golden compassion. Oh no, this Mowgli is a Type-A, a hyper-competitive workaholic with a steadfast grip on an extraordinary will to power. Mowgli may leave behind a trail of bloodshed and ash, his ascension will not be denied. Bill Pope’s camerawork plunges the viewer into action scenes with POV verisimilitude. Justin Marks’s script is peppered with moments of dry wit and dark humor that allow the tangential characters to breathe. John Debney’s score is good.
By Edward “Red Panda” Melamed