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Welcome to the Jungle'

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'The Jungle Book' a triumph of CGI storytelling

Remakes are a fact of life these days. Like it or not, fondly remembered properties are going to continue to be recycled. It's just the way things are.

But when it comes to something like 'The Jungle Book,' welllet's just say that you probably shouldn't try to reinvent the wheel. Happily, the folks at Disney have a pretty good idea about how this story works. And when they use the massive advances in cinematic technology to help them tell it, the end result is simply fantastic.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi in his feature debut) is a young man-cub living in the jungle. He was rescued as an infant by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley, 'The Walk') and brought to the wolves to be raised by Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o, 'Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens'). Mowgli does his best to be a good wolf, but he never quite fits in.

During a dry season that results in a truce among all of the jungle's animals, the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba, 'Zootopia') appears, demanding that Mowgli be given to him so that he might prevent the boy from growing up and becoming that most dangerous of all animals a man.

While the wolves debate whether to protect Mowgli, the boy offers instead to leave. Bagheera agrees to escort him to the man village where he can presumably be among his own kind and grow up far from the claws and teeth of Shere Khan.

However, the journey proves to be more hazardous than expected; Mowgli encounters plenty of new animals along the way friends and enemies alike. Some have questionable motives, such as the serpent Kaa (Scarlett Johansson, 'Hail, Caesar!') and King Louie (Christopher Walken, 'Eddie the Eagle'), who is reimagined here as a Gigantopithicus. Others prove to be worthy friends to Mowgli particularly everybody's favorite sloth bear Baloo (Bill Murray, 'Rock the Kasbah').

The law of the jungle is a harsh one, though; Mowgli is soon confronted with a choice. He can go back to being among his own people and forget about his time in the jungle, or he can stand beside them and try to do something about the menace of Shere Khan once and for all.

It seems foolhardy to offer much in the way of plot synopsis, if only because we're talking about a story that has been told and retold innumerable times since Rudyard Kipling first put Mowgli's adventures on the page nearly 125 years ago. Some of those retellings have been good, while othersnot so much.

But rest assured this one very much belongs in the former category.

'The Jungle Book' is one of the most visually stunning CGI-reliant films I have ever seen. The meticulous detail inherent to every frame results in a movie that makes it very easy to forget that literally everything you're seeing springs from a computer. In this golden age of cinematic technological advancement, a time when filmmakers have the ability to construct whole worlds using nothing but ones and zeros, the line between 'live-action' and 'animated' has become an increasingly blurry one. This film dances on that line like few we've ever seen.

It's not like the folks at Disney are strangers to using this kind of tech for moviemaking. And director Jon Favreau has a number of huge and effects-laden films on his resume. But this one is different really, the only thing that is actually 'real' on-screen is young Neel Sethi, yet there's never that sense of disconnect that comes with the clash between live and CGI.

Of course, aesthetics alone can't carry a film like this. The look is magnificent and the source material is proven, but it's the almost-across-the-board great performances that really push this one over the top.

We'll start with the weakest link. Sethi gives a game effort and acting opposite nothing is no easy task for even the most experienced performer but he's simply a bit too green. Still, he does his best, and even when he struggles, it never detracts from the overall experience. Not that it matters, because there is a MASSIVE collection of talent surrounding him. Kingsley is a great fit as the wise panther Bagheera; Nyong'o is excellent as well. And Elba exudes feline menace as the sinister Shere Khan.

But really, what we need to talk about is the dual home run casting of Bill Murray and Christopher Walken. Under almost any other circumstances, we'd be talking about trickster god Murray giving voice to one of pop culture's most beloved slacker bears as the casting coup to end all casting coups and he's absolutely brilliant, by the way. But then they cast Walken as King Louie, which might be an even greater choice and he's also brilliant. Bill Murray singing 'Bear Necessities' AND Christopher Walken singing 'I Wanna Be Like You'? That's planetary alignment-type stuff.

This incarnation of 'The Jungle Book' manages that rarest of feats it's a remake that actually lives up to its predecessor. Jon Favreau and company have built a beautiful and compelling film one that seems destined to be as fondly remembered as what came before.

[5 out of 5]

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