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Disney cashes in again with a new ‘Jungle Book’

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The Jungle Book

Two and a half stars

THE JUNGLE BOOK Neel Sethi, voices of Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG. Opens Friday citywide.

The latest in Disney’s highly lucrative series of live-action remakes of its animated classics, The Jungle Book is a fairly faithful retelling of its source material—more so the 1967 Disney animated movie than the 1894 Rudyard Kipling book of stories it’s based on. With nearly all of the characters and locations created via CGI, it’s a bit of a stretch to even call this a live-action movie.

The lone human character is 10-year-old Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a “man-cub” raised in the jungle. Pursued by the vicious tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), Mowgli must escape with the help of various animal friends, including wise panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and laid-back bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Sethi is stilted as Mowgli, and other than the laconic Murray, who’s quite entertaining as Baloo, the voice actors seem to be mostly going through the motions.

The tone is an awkward mix of savage jungle naturalism and cuddly animal antics, and it only confuses things further when the filmmakers throw in a couple of songs from the original movie. There’s a sort of prefab blandness to it all that is partly a result of the amazing photo-realistic CGI. It’s a carefully rendered technical marvel with very little artistry or soul.

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