Grade B +

Rudyard Kipling’s story is given another version in Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”  In the jungles of India, an orphaned, Indian boy (played by Neel Sethi) is found by a black panther (voiced by Ben Kingsley), and raised by a pack of wolves.  Sethi is often reminded that he is not a wolf, but a “man-cub.”  He isn’t as fast as his pack, he doesn’t have fangs nor claws to fight and defend himself with; but Sethi does have the human capability to create tools that will give him an edge in surviving in the jungle.

All is fairly well with Sethi and his wolf pack…until a tiger (brilliantly voiced by Idris Elba) takes notice of Sethi and demands the boy’s death.  Elba had a bad encounter with a human, you see, and half his face was burned by the human.  So now he has a hatred for all humans…oh, and of course, he’s a tiger, so he probably has anger issues anyway, regardless of the half-burnt face thing.

The wolf pack, afraid of Elba’s threats to kill them if Sethi isn’t turned over to Elba, discuss what is to be done with their man-cub member.  This is where I lost respect for the wolf pack.  There are about a dozen adult wolves, and they let one tiger threaten them?   Listen, you take the biggest, strongest guy in the world…you put him up against a dozen regular guys, that big guy is dead.   Anyway…

Sethi loves his wolf pack so much (especially his father and mother) that he decides to leave the jungle and live in the human world.  With Kingsley at his side, Sethi goes off on his adventure that will bring encounters with a giant snake, a loveable bear, a giant Orangutan, and ultimately, Elba in a winner take all fight.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Jungle Book” is the scene when we see the character of King Louie, a giant Orangutan voiced by the always entertaining Christopher Walken.  The first 20 seconds of his appearance is clearly a homage to Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now.”  Kids and young adults will miss the inside joke, but the older generation will smile at this moment.

Although this is a children’s movie for the most part — there will be at least one scene that will have little kids screaming and crying (Elba’s dispatching of Sethi’s wolf father) — and some shenanigans are expected and tolerated, there is a limit.  One shenanigan I didn’t like is the way Sethi’s wolf dad was stupid and let his guard down in front of Elba.  Come on, he’s a wolf!  A predator!  Sly, smart!  So what the hell happened!  He just went  retard?  Oy.  And the second shenanigan with Sethi able to run back home in what seemed to be record time despite having travelled days from home.  Double oy.

Because I liked “The Jungle Book” so much, and it worked for me at so many levels (I laughed, I was shocked, I was angry, elated, sad, and yes, even a bit scared (that big ass snake was scary, I don’t care if it was voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that I quickly dismissed those two shenanigans I mentioned above.  Congratulations to director Jon Favreau and all the talent involved in this movie for creating a good piece of entertainment.

— M