- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

After a near $1 billion run in theaters, the remake of The Jungle Book (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, $39.99, 106 minutes) gets a spectacular home theater debut providing an exciting evening for animal movie lovers.

Normally, I might question Disney adapting one its beloved animated classics into a live-action epic, but with imaginative director Jon Favreau at the helm, this new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s collection of short stories delivers a wonderful adventure for the entire family.

The tale stars the human boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised by a pack of wolves and their furry buddies. After a man-hating Bengal tiger named Shere Khan (ferociously voiced by Idris Elba) threatens the boy with death, the child escapes in search of a human village.

With help from a black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), famed sloth bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and some tool-making ingenuity, he may survive an identity-shaping journey that explores life’s experiences and the importance of family.

An exquisite digital transfer delivered in a screen-filling presentation (1.85:1 aspect ratio) allows the subtle appreciation of a Indian jungle in seasonal transitions filled with varied states of vegetation and the talking members of the animal kingdom.

The mixture of photo-realistic animals and terrain is a marvel and near worthy of pausing the film for an examination of every onscreen frame.

The digital effects are a staggering clinic of modern-day moviemaking — be it watching Mowgli running his fingers through the long hair of his adopted mother wolf Raksha, a eye-popping water buffalo stampede in a muddy ravine, seeing the fine hairs on a baby elephant’s skin or wandering through a steamy, vine-encrusted forest harboring a mesmerizing python.

The sound mix is equally impressive highlighting John Debney’s sweeping musical score using over 100 classical musicians. Equally enjoyable are a pair of classic musical numbers — Baloo’s “The Bare Necessities” and King Louis’ “I Wan’na Be Like You.”

The latter features Christopher Walken as the voice of King Louie (stop smiling). It’s perfect casting, and his singing as well as his alter ego’s performance should be watched multiple times to appreciate the combined effort of actor and computer-generated character.

Here’s a slight warning for parents. Despite those wonderful musical numbers and amusing banter by the wide range of animals, children might find the villainous and battle-scarred Shere Khan a bit frightening due to his too-realistic presentation as well as the gigantopithecus orangutan King Louie seen aggressively chasing Mowgli through a crumbling stone temple.

Although not bursting with extras for the kiddies, the bonus content on the Blu-ray disc focuses on the technological magic of “The Jungle Book.”

First, Mr. Favreau offers an optional commentary track covering lots of minutiae on the filmmaking process. His love of the project bursts forth during all of his narrative as he explains the critical importance of making the audience believe computer-generated animals could talk, his reverence for the original source material and his appreciation of the magic behind intricate digital special effects.

Next, to reinforce his words, he is joined by in a coffee shop with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato in a 35-minute, round-table featurette, peppered with plenty of pre-production footage and the scenes from the 1967 original cartoon musical.

Highlights include a nostalgic look back at the magic of Walt Disney Studios during the early years, explanations on breaking new ground in digital effects (techniques ranging from virtual camera layouts to puppeteering and using large panels of LEDs to control shadows), an overview of the voice-over cast and the musical score.

Finally, touching on digital effects and the great music marriage, viewers can watch a roughly 3-minute, layer-by-layer construction of the King Louie song “I Wan’na Be Like You.”

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