#A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Sharad Patel production in association with Edward S. Feldman. Produced by Feldman, Raju Patel. Executive producers, Sharad Patel, Mark Damon, Lawrence Mortorff. Co-executive producer, Rajendra Kumar. Co-producer, Michael J. Kagan. Directed by Stephen Sommers. Screenplay, Sommers, Ronald Yanover, Mark D. Geldman; story by Yanover, Geldman, based on characters from “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling. Camera (Technicolor), Juan Ruiz Anchia; editor, Bob Ducsay; music, Basil Poledouris; production design, Allan Cameron; set decoration, Crispian Sallis; costume design, John Mollo; sound (Dolby), Joseph Geisinger; assistant director, Artist Robinson; second unit directors, Greg Michael, David Ellis; visual effects supervisor, Peter Montgomery; stunt coordinators, Gerry Crampton, Ellis, Tim Davison; head animal trainer, Steve Martin; casting, Celestia Fox. Reviewed at the Avco Cinema Center, L.A., Dec. 9, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 110 min. Mowgli … Jason Scott Lee Boone … Cary Elwes Kitty … Lena Headey Brydon … Sam Neill Dr. Plumford … John Cleese Wilkins … Jason Flemyng Buldeo … Stefan Kalipha Harley … Ron Donachie Disney must tame a major marketing challenge — a title people associate with a children’s story, which here comes across as an ambitious hybrid of “Greystoke” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” That means adults will have to turn out for this opulent, action-packed production, which, based on the recent track record of remakes, should prove an uphill battle, leaving homevideo as the most successful hunting ground for “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.”
Unlike the 1942 version starring Sabu, or Disney’s animated ’60s classic, this latest “Jungle Book” seeks a more modern tone, with the imposing Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli — a boy raised in the jungle whose four-footed pals include a bear, a wolf and a panther.
These animals don’t talk or sing, however, and one wonders where the movie is going before it dramatically shifts gears into a full-throttled, technically superb adventure — with more bite than most Disney live-action fare — that offers some winning moments but, ultimately, isn’t as involving as it needs to be.
For one thing, the narrative keeps changing gears — from nature film to love story to actioner. At the age of 5, Mowgli, the son of an Indian guide, gets lost in the jungle and is raised by animals. Soon he becomes a young man, the lithesome Lee (star of “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”), again encountering Kitty (Lena Headey), the young British girl with whom he’d played as a boy.
In section two, Kitty tries to incorporate Mowgli into society, angering Boone (Cary Elwes), a suitor who’s also an officer in her father’s regiment. Finally, and most effectively, a quest begins to find a lost city filled with treasure, as Mowgli seeks to save his beloved from Boone and her captors.
What ultimately drives the movie is the love story — as Hugh Hudson sought to do in “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”– in true beauty-and-the-beast fashion. As with that film, there’s also an environmental conscience, celebrating Mowgli’s childlike innocence and the “jungle law” that says to kill only to survive.
Director Stephen Sommers (who steered another Disney live-action revival, “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” and scripted here with Ronald Yanover and Mark D. Geldman) serves up a visual feast of beautiful animals and spectacular vistas, often mixed with a somewhat less appetizing soundtrack of grunts and growls.
There is some humor and charm, but until the impressive, “Raiders”-esque last half-hour, the movie straddles the line between children’s fare and adult-oriented material; indeed, parents may want to know that the bad guys meet some rather grisly, if not graphic, ends.
Lee is such a striking presence physically that he needn’t do much but look happy or baffled, while Headey is at best a passable lure to bring the boy out of the jungle. Elwes fares better as the piece’s Snidely Whiplash, while Sam Neill and John Cleese are amusing in small roles.
Technically, “Jungle Book” is an encyclopedia of wonders, from the dazzling scenery (shot largely in Jodhpur, India), cinematography, costumes and sets, to the animals, who frequently out-emote their two-legged counterparts. Even so, “Book” may have been more effective had its story stayed on one page.