Baloo promoting the joys of laziness made for cheerful childhood memories in the 1967 Disney classic "The Jungle Book." The 2016 version, which premiered on April 5, sets a real young boy amidst a threatening 3D jungle.
The opening scenes of the remake are far from comforting. The little orphan Mowgli roams alone in the wilderness - a gloomy computer-generated jungle. The atmosphere promises perilous adventures.
Mowgli, the main character, is the only one to be embodied by a real actor (Neel Sethi). For his debut role, the 11-year-old actor is surprisingly professional with his naïve yet snappy tone.
All the other creatures in the Disney jungle are computer-animated but can speak - with brilliantly rendered facial expressions that make their human-like dialogues appear natural.
The animals' voices are provided by an outstanding cast of actors. The black panther Bagheera, who tries to protect the young boy, has Ben Kingsley's voice. Bill Murray comfortingly lends his voice to Baloo, the lazy bear who becomes Mowgli's best friend.
Scarlett Johansson has the perfect seductive voice for Kaa the snake, who ensnares the young boy in a trippy scene. Other top stars include Idris Elba, as the dangerous tiger Shere Khan, and Christopher Walken, the orangutan King Louie who tries to trap Mowgli.
Too scary for small children
In this 106-minute-long feature film, director Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") offers a series of adventures leading through detailed 3D valleys and ancient forests.
Holding on to just a few of the famous songs of the cult classic, including "The Bare Necessities," the remake is not built on the feel-good vibe of the original.
Disney's 1967 animated classic was colorful, funny and harmless, whereas the 2016 remake is grim and as suspenseful as an action thriller: no longer a movie for small children.
The battle between Bagheera and Shere Khan is murderous. Mowgli barely escapes many life-threatening situations by boldly leaping into unknown depths.
Seductive and vengeful
This version offers new interpretations of the characters Kaa the snake and the ape King Louie. The hypnotic python is given feminine features for the first time: Kaa embodies the most dangerous form of seduction for the boy. He is recued at the last minute from her suffocating embrace.
The remake's King Louie is an evil and vengeful figure. He wants Mowgli to bring the humans' fire to his rotten palace so that once and for all, he can become the ruler of the jungle. This version of song "I Wanna Be Like You" highlights how man's "firearms" are the epitome of power.
In the animated version of 1967, the jazz musician Louis Armstrong was initially considered for King Louie's voice, as he would have been perfect to interpret that song. Fearing political controversy by casting an African-American as an ape, the role was given to the "King of Swing" Louis Prima instead. In the remake, the character is typified as a powerful villain, clearly distancing him from racist undertones.
Another 'Jungle Book' expected in 2017
A competing version of Rudyard Kipling's world famous story is to be released in 2017. The Warner Bros production, directed by Andy Serkis (Gollum in "Lord of the Rings"), relies on a sophisticated stop-motion animation technique, translating the movements of the actors into animated creatures.
Christian Bale will be Bagheera's voice, Benedict Cumberbatch will speak for tiger Shere Khan, and here too a seductive actress's voice is featured in the role of the hypnotizing snake Kaa: Cate Blanchett.
Jon Favreau's Walt Disney Pictures remake hits cinemas on April 14 in Germany, a day later in North America, and on slightly different dates worldwide.