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Disney’s remaking of “The Jungle Book” is currently in theaters. Youtube | Courtesy
Disney’s remaking of “The Jungle Book” is cur­rently in the­aters. Youtube | Courtesy

Disney’s strategy to remake ani­mated classics into live-action films has def­i­nitely resulted in a mixed bag. “Cin­derella” was great. “Malef­icent” was OK. “101 Dal­ma­tians” was awful. “Alice in Won­derland” was a little weird, but the author of the book was high on opium when he wrote the story, so that’s to be expected. Overall, the remakes have been so-so, with the exception of “Cin­derella,” which most critics and movie­goers (from dads to moms to 20-some­things to little girls) praised as pretty fan­tastic (which, it is).

But if you’re a hardcore Disney fanatic, you can add another live-action remake to the list of suc­cesses: besides being cin­e­mat­i­cally gor­geous, “The Jungle Book” stays true to the ani­mated classic (and to the short story “Mowgli’s Brothers” by Rudyard Kipling on which both films were based) while effort­lessly pulling off a poignant coming-of-age story.

As a kid, “The Jungle Book” was never one of my favorite Disney movies. But watching the live-action remake of “The Jungle Book” com­pletely changed my opinion of Rudyard Kipling’s famous story.

Mowgli (por­trayed by Neel Sethi), raised by a wolf pack and a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) in an Indian jungle, is hunted by Shere Khan, the mag­nif­icent, ruthless tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) who killed his father. When Shere Khan threatens to destroy the wolves and anyone who pro­tects Mowgli, the “man-cub” is forced to leave the only family he’s ever known and return to the “man village” before the great tiger finds him. Along the way, Mowgli meets the slippery python Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), an endearing bear named Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), and the ginormous ape King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) before he finally comes to terms with his humanity and place in the jungle.

Mowgli’s coming-of-age is subtly revealed at a careful pace, without rushing his growth or making the viewer feel like his choice to stop running and stand up to Shere Khan is forced. While the looming of shadow of the great tiger follows Mowgli’s adven­tures, the film manages to balance the darker moments with light­hearted scenes: Baloo and Mowgli singing the beloved “Bare Neces­sities” on a river and King Louie and the apes com­i­cally trying to be like men. Neel Sethi por­trays Mowgli with sur­prising gen­uineness: while some of his lines seem a little forced, Sethi suc­cess­fully acts, talks, and thinks like a 10-year-old boy. He reacts how anyone would expect a small boy to react when Bagheera tries to take him away from his games and tricks with Baloo, and when the only father he’s ever known is killed by the black-striped menace.

From a CGI stand­point, the film is a work of art. Some directors struggle to produce real­istic fantasy films with so much com­puter-gen­erated imagery at their dis­posal, but director Jon Favreau does a truly amazing job. The way Shere Khan’s muscles move under his striped skin makes him look com­pletely real as he leaps down a ravine to drink at a pool — when the camera pans out, the sight of the tiger bending down to drink can only be described as majestic. Mowgli embracing his wolf-mother in the rain is a truly stunning shot — and the colors of the jungle are so vivid you could almost touch the flowers, vines, and trees when

Mowgli and Baloo are floating down a river. From an aes­thetic stand­point, “The Jungle Book” is beau­ti­fully seamless.

But besides stellar acting and cin­e­matog­raphy, the real selling-point of “The Jungle Book” is its timeless tale: even a young boy caught up with making pulley systems to steal honey from bees and playing games with wolf cubs can defend his family if his father is taken from him. Even if you’re only 10 years old, you can still find courage and stand up to fierce tigers.