Everything epic that Legends of the Fall strains so hard to achieve, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book accomplishes niftily. This live-action version has a lot to overcome, not least of which is our familiarity with two famous film predecessors, including Disney’s own 1967 animated classic. The engaging solution is to make the adventures of Mowgli, raised in the Indian jungle, look like an animation come to life: This is a defanged Jungle Book for the Lion King generation, colored and framed like a jolly piece of Indian pulp art.
Surprisingly, it works. And much of the credit goes to canny casting. How clever to let Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) flash his expressive eyes as well as his martial-arts physique as Mowgli! What a sly variation on his Jurassic Park persona to turn Sam Neill into Major Brydon, the decent British army officer! How hip to use dewy Lena Headey (The Remains of the Day) as Mowgli’s sweetheart, Cary Elwes (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as the rotter Captain Boone, and John Cleese as Dr. Plumford in homage to every Monty Python twit he has every played! The animals are dignified cuties and the humans are boisterous archetypes, and if you want the heart to have more darkness, you’re barking up the wrong vine. B