Talking animals work in this film because the animals talked in the original book. It's perfectly natural for them to talk like this in this world. John Favreau had created a gorgeous piece of fantasy adventure that dazzles and engages at all turns. It's a story all children should know and one that kids and parents will love.
The arrival of Shere Khan DOES NOT disappoint. He is one evil piece of fury and anger. Indris Elba is amazingly and appropriately terrifying. But he'll get his. You just wait and see.
All the voice acting is gorgeous and spot on casting and the young kid playing Mogli is perfectly fine as the man cub who makes a journey to manhood. Neel Sethi is the personification of the Mogli we all know and his performance anchors the whole film in it's own kind of reality. He is a child of the jungle and to solve his problems he will have to use all the jungle has taught him about survival. It's timeless stirring stuff and once again Disney impresses me this year. I am also impressed with they way the kid moved through the trees like he was born to do so. I stopped worrying if he would fall about ten minutes into it. The POV shots are dizzying in their glory and Mogli fearlessly races above the tree tops.
Scarlet Johanson is an equally frightening predator and wisely used only for her shock effect.
And then Bill Murray arrives as Baloo the Bear. More perfect casting and comedy relief. Baloo is a great con artist and protector who instantly sees a way that Mogli can improve his bear life which as we all know consist of eating and sleeping and yes, singing. I don't know how I feel about the singing. It is a neat homage to the old Disney cartoon but I did find it a bizarre addition that altered the tone. I also had problem with the dark effects. I know the addition of fire helped but I am so SO TIRED of seeing special effects in the dark with fire just because filmmakers can't cover up obvious flaws to their CGI. Maybe less is more in all cases. But I quibble. The rewards of this film cover up any minor complaints I may have had.
I even had time for a tear or three. Separation anxiety always hurts. Hurt as much as monkeys. It's always trouble when there are monkey's involved. THIS close to being humans that they can barely stand it for the jealousy. They are also truly frightening. I know that as a small child I might be a bit traumatized by King Louis and his poop throwing ilk. Monkey filled temples are NEVER a good thing.
Like most Disney films there are things that will need to be explained to the little ones and some of the scenes are pretty intense. However, for adults this is a great retelling of a classic tale of western literature that takes me back to a time when kids read books in school and for recreation and actually LIVED an adventure tales. This film is a great throwback to those times. I am happy to have lived in both those times and the marvelous, magical Golden Age we know these days.