Movie review: Live-action "Jungle Book" should silence the cynics

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

OK, so the idea of a live-action remake of "The Jungle Book" that relies on so much CGI it might as well be a cartoon sounds like a terrible idea on paper. Or, rather, it sounds like a lazy money-making scheme out of a Hollywood that plays it safe and recycles ideas.

That cynicism couldn't be more wrong. Yes, it's a big-budget movie based on a beloved favorite. But it's also its own unique delight.

There's plenty of credit to go around, but let's start with the director. Jon Favreau's big-budget career has been hit ("Iron Man") and miss ("Cowboys and Aliens"), but the spirit of his "Jungle Book" brought me back to one of his earlier films. In the underrated "Zathura" - a loose sequel to "Jumanji" - Favreau showed he could use special effects without killing the heart of a kid-friendly story. And that's what he's done here.

In fact, those eye-popping, computer-generated talking animals are so photorealistic it's easy to get lost in the fantasy as we tag along with Mowgli (perfectly cast newcomer Neel Sethi). Visually, "Book" is breathless and wondrous, without ever getting overly frenetic, which can be tempting when you can literally do anything you want with these talking animals and virtual cameras.

And let's talk about those talking animals. I'm normally not a huge fan of casting big names in voice roles, but everyone here is so spot-on. Bill Murray as the affable bear Baloo seems obvious, but it's also perfect. Scarlett Johansson as the snake Kaa is an inspired flip. Really, it's all perfect.

It pays homage to Disney's 1967 animated telling of Rudyard Kipling's stories in ways that don't feel begrudging. But this "Book" is also its own. If it looks like a money-grab on paper, it feels like a new classic on screen.

"The Jungle Book"

Opens Thursday

3 ½ stars out of 4