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Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book Reviews

Rudyard Kipling's stories of Mowgli, the boy reared by wolves, are transformed by Disney's live-action adaptation into an old-fashioned adventure film more closely resembling the pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stunning production design, smart pacing, and a well-handled romantic angle make for a seamless, if undemanding, entertainment. Lost in the Indian jungle during a British officer's safari, Mowgli, the five-year-old son of the party's Indian guide, is adopted and raised by a pack of wolves. He grows to manhood in the company of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther. One day, while chasing monkeys, Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) discovers a lost ancient city, overgrown with vegetation, but filled with immense treasure and guarded over by a deadly python. Finding a jeweled dagger, Mowgli uses it to fight off the python and flee. Some time later, at the edge of the jungle, Mowgli encounters Kitty (Lena Headey), the daughter of Colonel Brydon (Sam Neill). Before he'd been lost as a boy, Mowgli had known her and still wears a bracelet she had given him. Kitty's boyfriend, Captain Boone (Cary Elwes) intervenes and shoots Mowgli, who retreats, wounded, into the jungle. Dressed in clothes taken from the lost city, Mowgli ventures into town in search of Kitty. He makes his way to her room in the palace, but is chased through the streets by the guards and eventually caught and imprisoned. Kitty recognizes him as Mowgli and gets him transferred to the palace, where she and Dr. Plumford (John Cleese) teach him English and the manners of polite society. The scheming Boone learns of the lost city and attempts to get Mowgli to take him and his confederates to the treasure. Frustrated by Mowgli's refusal and Kitty's rejection of his marriage proposal, Boone has his Indian cohorts kidnap Kitty and forces Mowgli to guide him and his party to the treasure. Midway through the trip, Mowgli escapes and proceeds to harass the group in the jungle until, by the time they reach the treasure, only Boone and Kitty remain alive. In the treasure chamber, Boone and Mowgli engage in a sword fight which ends with Mowgli wounding Boone and fleeing with Kitty. Boone loads up on treasure, but is attacked by the python and killed. Mowgli returns with Kitty to Colonel Brydon. Unlike the Kordas' 1942 live-action version and Disney's 1967 animated musical variation, this JUNGLE BOOK depicts Mowgli as a strong, assertive romantic lead. The element of interracial romance offers a welcome twist, giving modern audiences an emotional hook and a healthy dose of sex appeal. However, issues of cultural identity, colonialism, and the construction of "nature" vs. "civilization" are subordinated to a well-worn adventure plot, which recasts Kipling's tale as a Tarzan movie with its handsome, jungle-reared hero, English heroine, animal friends, and greedy white hunters seeking a lost treasure (a frequent plot of Tarzan movies). Like Johnny Weissmuller's ape man, Mowgli even calls on elephants for help at key moments. The film benefits from assured direction (by the maker of 1993's THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN), strong acting, and imaginative production design making excellent use of flawless matte shots, striking sets, and evocative locations in India, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The film creates the look and feel of another place and time without the ostentatious self-consciousness of so many recent Hollywood attempts to recapture the appeal of old-fashioned entertainment (e.g,. the INDIANA JONES films). Muscular Jason Scott Lee, who excelled in DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993), doesn't really pass for an Indian, but he manages to combines Sabu's charm with the raw physical power of Johnny Weissmuller. Newcomer Lena Headey is attractive and appealing as the English girl who follows her own heart. Sam Neill essays the stern but warmhearted British commander, the sort so often played in the 1930s by the venerable C. Aubrey Smith, while John Cleese updates the jovial colonial Englishman once patented by Nigel Bruce. Although the familiar animal characters are in evidence--all but the python are real animals rather than special effects--their importance is downplayed in favor of the adventure story. Still, their scenes add at least some element of Kipling to the otherwise traditional Hollywood slant of the story. (Violence)