International Business Times, India rating: 5 stars
"Look for the bare necessities...the simple bare necessities....forget about your worries and your strife." The first few lines of lyricist Terry Gilkyson's "Bare Necessities" were playing in my head on repeat as I was being pulled into director Jon Favreau's world of "The Jungle Book."
The fantasy-adventure film, co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures, wastes no time in establishing its premise: loincloth-clad feral child Mowgli (first-timer Neel Sethi) tearing through a grove of trees, swinging branch-to-branch as his animal compatriots follow him in his adventure across the wild, highlights a life of simpler joys.
The man-cub, raised by a pack of wolves â€“ headed by Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) â€” must leave the only home he has ever had after the fearsome Royal Bengal Tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) swears vengeance on him. Wise panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) offers to escort him to a village where he'd be safe and away from the claws of the big cat.
As Mowgli embarks on this journey of self discovery, he encounters the hypnotising python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the friendly bear Baloo (Bill Murray) â€” who brings the most cheers as he teaches him a thing or two about life while singing "Bare Necessities" â€” and the coercive King Louie (Christopher Walken), who makes him a deal that he would protect him from Shere Khan provided he gives up the secret to the "red flower" (fire).
The newfangled adaptation of English author Rudyard Kipling's stories hasn't been Disney-fied, which means the characters, in Censor Board (India) chief Pahlaj Nihalani's words, have it in them to "startle" the viewer. Shere Khan's sudden lunge on Mowgli made me take off my 3D glasses.
Bill Pope's frenzied camera work may attract criticisms, but it does justice to Mowgli's many hikes across the wild. His cinematography was helped by Justin Marks' tight screenplay, which didn't borrow heavily from its animated predecessor -- Wolfgang Reitherman's "The Jungle Book" (1967).
The film's greatest strength lies in the top-drawer VFX work, which is probably the best since 2009 release "Avatar." Even though it might not be the first of its kind â€” "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988) is one of the few that broke new ground with its next-level special effects â€” it effortlessly merges live-action with photorealistic CGI animals, using up-to-the-minute technology and clever plot devices to draw viewers into a fascinating world.
Sethi is a livewire and seemed to be having fun interacting with the computer-generated four-legged friends. He appeared strangely confident for a newcomer. Scarlett's silken voice is bewitching and thus, deserves a lengthier screen time. Ben was stern, Christopher angry and Idris deliciously menacing.
"The Jungle Book" features appropriate proportions of emotion and technical wizardry, making it an immersive watch. To live the experience, watch it in IMAX.