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Unjustly forgotten, and in need of a remastered DVD, 30 April 2016

While there is a slight personal preference for the 1960 Disney film, which is much more familiar to me, this 1940 film adaptation of 'Swiss Family Robinson' should be better known and unfortunately can only really be found on a too darkly lit and blurry VHS. It is a film worthy of a DVD, and a remastered one at that.

As an adaptation of the book (which is a very fun, suspenseful and thought-provoking read), this is the more faithful adaptation with more of the book's events intact, better performances from the kids generally and a darker tone. For me though, the later Disney film is better made, has the better played Elizabeth, has a more fitting music score especially in the opening storm sequence (not knocking the music here though) and who cannot resist that treehouse?

Judging it as a standalone and moving on from the VHS issues, the only problems this reviewer found with the film were some draggy pacing in parts and Edna Best's stiff and overacted Elizabeth. Although the VHS does the production values no justice, the settings and costumes are very nicely mounted and it's nicely photographed. The Oscar-nominated special effects in the storm sequences impress and the storm sequences themselves though a touch overlong are spectacularly authentic with a real sense of danger.

'Swiss Family Robinson' is rousingly and lusciously scored, securely directed and intelligently scripted. There is more of the book's story here, and scenes like the salvage trips to the reef-bound brig, the lessons in candle-making and ostrich-taking, the recipe for Elizabeth's fish stew are portrayed in an amusing and exciting manner, same with the spider bite which does have a good deal of suspense. The characters have lost none of their charm and appeal, while the animals are sweet and well trained.

Best aside, the acting is good with a perfectly cast Thomas Mitchell and a delightful Freddie Bartholomew coming out on top. An uncredited Orson Welles brings his distinctive booming voice to the narration, which doesn't make the mistake of being over-used or over-explanatory.

In conclusion, very well done and unfortunately unjustly forgotten. 8/10 Bethany Cox

A revival that won't be easily forgotten, 30 April 2016

After the Met's deeply disappointing production of 'Manon Lescaut', directed by Richard Eyre, back in March despite superb orchestral playing and conducting and solid performances, there was the hope that this revival of late film-maker Anthony Minghella's production would be much improved. Much to this reviewer's relief it was.

'Madama Butterfly' is a very moving, if sometimes implausible, opera and contains some of the most beautiful music that Puccini ever wrote (the Act 1 love duet, the Humming Chorus, "Un Bel Di Vedremo" and the final scene particularly). It is blessed with a strong recording competition, and on DVD the only one not really worth bothering with is the visually ugly and distasteful Daniela Dessi production, which was like "Madama Butterfly goes to insect land".

This is a truly wonderful production of 'Madama Butterfly', and won't be easily forgotten, probably will go as far to say that it is one of the better productions of 'Madama Butterfly' personally viewed. While the original production was very good, because of stronger leads and the touches that didn't quite do much for me first time round but came over better here in the revival (i.e. the controversial use of puppetry).

It is a very striking production visually, some may find the sets on the bare side but to me they were atmospheric and made more interesting than they could have been by the clever way they're used (especially with the magical sliding doors and the mirror), the dazzling lighting and the bright sumptuous costuming. The production is staged very compellingly too, immediately striking being how affectingly nuanced the many intimate scenes were (with the final scene being an emotional tour-De-force) and the clever and very stylish choreography that helped solve potential problems in the storytelling. You couldn't have asked for a more cinematic entrance for Cio-Cio San either, and the interactions and chemistry between the performers is admirably naturalistic. The puppetry was not a distraction this time round, instead having a haunting humanity.

On a technical front, the production acquits itself just fine. The high definition is splendid as ever, with the video directing being refreshingly cinematic and the picture quality clear as crystal. The sound quality is clear and resonant, allowing the viewer/listener to fully savour Puccini's music. Deborah Voigt's hosting is charming and poised, and the interviews are fun and quite interesting if not completely illuminating.

This production couldn't have been better musically, if there were any sore spots they weren't obvious to me. The orchestral playing is rich and warmly beautiful in tone, while the tenderness, lyrical sweep, dramatic tension, passion and nuances all come through. The chorus sing ravishingly, with great musicality, phrasing and diction and there are no obvious balance issues. Their stage manner is very involved and hardly static, the Met Chorus over time have grown considerably over time and their acting is much more individual generally. Karel Mark Chichon's conducting (one of the improvements over the original production), very much like the character of Sharpless, is firm but also sympathetic.

Kristine Opolais may not be entirely convincing dramatically as a teenager, but that doesn't stop her from giving a wholly committed, impassioned and truly heart-rending account of the title role. Her singing has a gleaming yet dark beauty that shines especially in the final scene and "Un Bel Di Vedremo". It is not easy giving likability and charm to one of opera's most dislikeable tenor (overall too) characters (Pollione from 'Norma' is right up there too), but Roberto Alagna manages to do so remarkably well. He is also in great voice, ringing and masculine yet he's gentle when needed while his phrasing, musicality and diction are right on point. He and Opolais have strong chemistry together, looking much more at ease and more like lovers in the Act 1 Love duet in this production than they did in 'Manon Lescaut', and blend beautifully in the duet as well.

Maria Zifchak sings very warmly and is in better voice than she was in the earlier Met HD production six years earlier. She is very touching as Suzuki, and her sympathetic, firm and affecting reactions to Cio Cio San resonates every bit as much as their chemistry together. Dwayne Croft is along with Juan Pons the most sympathetic and nuanced Sharpless since perhaps Giorgio Zancanaro, and he brings a gruff firmness to the role too. His singing is mellifluous and as sturdy as an oak. In smaller roles, Tony Stevenson is an enjoyably serpentine Goro, and while characterful his singing is more attractive than most singing the role, and Stefan Szkafarowsky booms ominously as Bonze. Yamadori and Kate are good.

Overall, wonderful performance that improves on the original production. Won't be easily forgotten. 10/10 Bethany Cox

Tantsy kukol (1985) (TV)
Soyuzmultfilm enchants again, 29 April 2016

'Dancing Dolls' joins the long line of wonderful cartoons made by Soyuzmultfilm. Mostly based on fairy tales, literary classics and nationalistic folk stories, they are beautifully made, charming and poignant gems with great storytelling and memorable characters. This reviewer has yet to be disappointed by them.

Luckily, 'Dancing Dolls' does not disappoint at all. It's not one of Soyuzmultfilm's best, which was a tall order seeing as there is so much fine stuff from them, but it is one of their sweetest and most criminally underseen.

The animation is beautifully done, its story book-like style being rendered so charmingly. It's not the most imaginative visually of their animations, with their takes on 'Beauty and the Beast' (1952's 'Scarlet Flower') and 'The Nutcracker' (1973's 'Schelkunchik') having particularly unforgettable background art, but a lot of care, heart and detail clearly went into it as can be seen in the sumptuous colours, richly detailed backgrounds and adorable character designs. The dancing ideally matches Shostakovich's music nuance for nuance.

Speaking of Shostakovich's music, with the "Dancing Dolls suite" being one of his most accessible pieces (both from a performer's and listener's perspectives), it's just outstanding and perfectly fits with the animation and the toys' dancing, especially in the dance of the ornaments and from where Puss in Boots appears. It is brilliantly performed on the piano too, with the ornament dance orchestrated with every bit the elegant, gentle simplicity the piece needs. The dancing of the toys not only looks good in the animation but also syncs with the music without any obvious question marks being raised. The ornament dance and the ending fare particularly strongly here.

As for the story, very slight it may be but it was so sweet and touching without being too sugary or saccharine and was continually captivating that it didn't matter at all. The characters carry 'Dancing Dolls' with immense appeal, the toys are adorable and the little girl is likable. To not have voices was a good move, it's a very intimate story with a very gentle mood that voices would have most likely spoilt it.

In conclusion, another enchanting gem from Soyuzmultfilm. 10/10 Bethany Cox

Very nicely animated and entertaining Christmas cartoon, 29 April 2016

'The Christmas Visitor' may not be one of my favourite Christmas cartoons, speaking as someone who has been a lifelong fan of animation and who has always loved Christmas, but it is still a lovely cartoon and well worth tracking down (which you can, on Youtube).

It's only real fault really, and this is more personal preference rather than objective criticism, is that the story is one that has been seen many times in cartoons and not an awful lot new is done with it, so the toys' antics are not that surprising. It also maybe takes a touch too long to set up, albeit it is still set up absolutely beautifully, finding more energy when the toys come to life.

On the other hand, the animation is very nice and often beautiful. It's rich, vibrant and colourful in colour, the backgrounds while not rich in detail is hardly sparse or simplistic either and while the character designs are somewhat "abstract" they have an appealing charm, not a hint of ugliness at all. Some of the visuals once the toys come to life are very creative as well. The music sparkles with festive spirit, and while it has a lot of wit and character it mostly has a most elegant lushness and used appropriately understatedly.

'The Christmas Visitor's' narration, which is basically a recitation of the famous "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem brought a real smile to my face remembering all the times of reading it (privately and aloud) as a child, and the twist on the final verse evoked a good chuckle. It is narrated with calming sincerity as well. The story, despite it being very standard, is also very charming and entertaining and the inventive visuals help to make the action engaging, which it certainly does in the quite exciting rescue. The characters are similarly sweet and engaging.

Santa is suitably jovial, the sailor and the shepherdess are attractive and not too pallid and Black-jack the Snidley Whiplash-like Jack-in-the-box villain is deliciously smarmy and perhaps the most colourful personality of the toys. The voice work for the narrator and Santa is solid.

In conclusion, very nicely animated, fun and charming. 9/10 Bethany Cox

Freefall (2009) (TV)
Very intriguing and well-made, though with a couple of limitations, 29 April 2016

With some talented names involved and a very interesting subject matter, 'Freefall' had the potential from the get go to be good. Luckily for 'Freefall', although there are a few flaws, it handles the story intriguingly and was clearly made with accomplishment and passion.

Starting with 'Freefall's' flaws, a couple of the dialogue exchanges lack nuance and rather have the subtlety of an axe and also sounding on the awkward side, the exchange between Dave and Sam did have me cringing a bit. It's also short on character development, the characters are certainly interesting, and judging from personal experience the portrayals of bankers and mortgage salespeople is reasonably accurate (no sugar-coating here), but very black and white making the drama in places a touch too on the grim side, the writing of Aidan Gillen's character Gus particularly. 'Freefall' is very well acted on the whole, but there is one exception and that is Sarah Harding as Sam, over-acting so irritatingly that it's a relief that her appearance here is brief.

'Freefall' has however many strengths. With the stylish editing, austere but atmospheric colours that go perfectly with the tone of the drama and the documentary-style camera work, 'Freefall' is very well-made. The music really adds to the emotional impact and intensity, and never felt over-bearing, obtrusive, annoying, one-note or out-of-kilter. Apart from a couple of unsubtle exchanges, the script is very astute, thought-provoking and refreshingly realistic for a one-off drama taking on a social-commentary/documentary-style approach, remarkable for a drama that apparently was ad-libbed a lot of the time.

The story is very absorbing and zips along very assuredly thanks to the atmosphere and Dominic Savage's focused direction. While not the most informative of drama content-wise, it is delivered very insightfully. The characters, while not particularly well-developed, are interesting, with Dave being the most compelling and Jim and Mandy being the ones that a tinge of empathy is felt for. With the sole exception of Harding, the cast are very good to wonderful, with swaggering Dominic Cooper, cautious Anna Maxwell Martin and particularly vulnerable Joseph Mawle faring especially strongly. Aidan Gillen has a great brooding intensity too and Rosamund Pike is charming and poised.

All in all, not perfect but very intriguing and well-made. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Little Men (1940)
Terrible as an adaptation, and apart from some virtues mediocre on its own terms, 29 April 2016

'Little Men' is a charming, entertaining and heart-warming book. If you like the more popular 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives', 'Little Men' won't disappoint as it does have much of the ingredients that make those two books so good. The main reason why there is a personal preference towards the other two is to do with that 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' are stories I've known and loved since childhood whereas 'Little Men' was introduced to me quite some years later.

While this 1940 adaptation of 'Little Men' didn't do much for me, it does have virtues that prevent it from being a complete disaster. Visually it is quite handsomely mounted, with sumptuous black and white photography, elegant costumes and evocative sets and scenery. Roy Webb's score complements beautifully, and it is a lusciously orchestrated and rhythmically characterful score in its own right, never feeling too twee or overly-jaunty. A couple of performances are good, with very funny Jack Oakie and lively George Bancroft coming out on top. Jimmy Lydon does well, and his reform does provide the one moment in the film where a tear really is brought to the eye. Elsie the Cow is also very cute.

Sadly, the rest of the cast are not particularly memorable and struggle to bring life to characters that are just not interesting. Even though Jo is much older than the spirited yet hot-tempered youthful Jo seen in 'Little Women', Kay Francis is far too subdued, disadvantaged by how blandly as a result of being mostly stripped of that liveliness and spirit Jo is written. Charles Esmond is also much too stiff as Mr Bhaer, and rather too buffoonish and naive too. The other children don't generate much spark, only Dan shows any signs of development.

It's not their fault though, because they don't have much of worth to work with, which would have been far less problematic if the film had stuck more to the book. Speaking briefly about how 'Little Men' fares as an adaptation, out of all the film adaptations of Alcott's books it is by far and large the weakest and most uninspired. Although none of the other film adaptations of Alcott's work are completely faithful to their source material and there are significant alterations and omissions in some, this is the only one to change the original story beyond recognition to the extent that if the title and characters' names hadn't been left intact it would have been something else entirely.

Judging films and adaptations as standalones this reviewer has always found a fairer way to judge, but apart from a few good things 'Little Men' is pretty mediocre on its own terms. The script is rather messy, the subtle social commentary and gentle tone is predominantly replaced by overused and increasingly idiotic slapstick, maudlin sentiment, mostly teeth-gritting humorous moments (Oakie does have some very amusing moments though admittedly, just that the more repetitive ones suffer eventually from being overly-absurd) and dialogue that takes one completely out of the time period and setting.

Didn't find myself particularly engaged by the story in 'Little Men' either, with the first half-hour being particularly slow-going with a lot of dialogue but not much going on in the story-telling. Due to so many changes and omissions, which hurt the energy and flow, it's also rather limply paced, dramatically dreary, can feel choppy and just everything that made the original story such a lovely read is not present here.

Overall, a few merits here but mediocre and disappointing as an overall film, while faring terribly as an adaptation. 4/10 Bethany Cox

Richard Eyre's Met Manon Lescaut disappoints despite superb orchestral playing and conducting, 28 April 2016

'Manon Lescaut' is not one of Puccini's finest operas, have much more of a personal preference towards 'Tosca', 'La Boheme', 'Madama Butterfly' and 'Turandot'. Its story, while entertaining and moving, is implausible in places and due to so much of the original story being skipped also jumpy and not as coherent as Massenet's take on the opera.

Puccini's music however is simply gorgeous, the Intermezzo, deportation scene, Des Grieux's "Donna non vidi mai" and Manon's "Sola Perduta Abbandonata" being the highlights. Having loved his Met productions of 'Carmen', 'Werther' and especially 'Le Nozze di Figaro', Richard Eyre's take on 'Manon Lescaut' was really disappointing, not only my least favourite production of the opera (which enjoys a quite solid DVD competition, the 1980 Met and 1983 Royal Opera productions faring best) but one of my least favourites too of the fascinating Metropolitan Opera HD Live series.

It's not all bad this said. The best assets are the orchestral playing and Fabio Luisi's conducting which are both superb. The orchestra's playing throughout is impeccable, lush in tone and multifaceted, while Luisi wrings out every nuance of the beautiful music, like every good conductor should he lets the music breathe (important for a score that has a lot of intimate moments) yet ensures that the drama never loses lustre. The chorus are well-balanced and sound splendid, and while individuality in chorus work is always welcome their stage direction is overdone and their acting comes over as gimmicky unfortunately.

On a technical front the production is fine, the video directing having expansive use of the stage while focusing sympathetically on the intimate moments and the sound mostly having resonance, apart from some balance issues in the Act 2 duet (with Opolais and Alagna's voices not quite carrying over the orchestra). Deborah Voigt's hosting is admirably poised. Performances are good but not outstanding. Kristine Opolais has a gleamingly dark beauty to her voice, which is used and phrased with great intelligence, and is heart-wrenching in the last two acts especially "Sola Perduta Abbandonata". Unfortunately she is over-directed in Act 2, which makes Manon very difficult to root for.

Roberto Alagna, replacing an indisposed Jonas Kaufmann, does a gallant job as Des Grieux. He does sound strained at times to begin with and doesn't project quite as much in "Donna non vidi mai" as much as he could have done, but his portrayal is a passionate one, he sings with handsome tone and good musicality and his diction is excellent. The two are very moving in Act 4, sadly they looked ill-at-ease in Act 2 in contrast. Brindley Sherratt stands out as a wonderfully nasty and characterfully sung Geronte, and Massimo Cavalletti sings warmly if a little stiff as Lescaut, while Zach Borichevsky makes much of little as student Edmondo.

Visually, this 'Manon Lescaut' is rather garish and ugly. Even for a supposedly deliberately ambiguous (morally) setting, it was very difficult ciphering when and where the production was meant to be set in without prior knowledge, and there is little in the staging that represents the period the production is set in. The towering sets dwarf the singers and are quite tacky. The staging is the production's biggest downfall, there is a complete lack of emotional impact outside of Act 4, parts veer on the silly and bizarre, parts are irrelevant to the libretto and anachronistic to the setting of the production and in context to the story (which is set in a very specific time period), parts like the stage business during the deportation scene are gimmicky and pointless and nothing is done to make the story or setting clear to the audience, Eyre managing to make it even less coherent.

All in all, despite superb orchestral playing and conducting this was a disappointing performance. 5/10 Bethany Cox

Stereotypical, but also very sweet and charming, 28 April 2016

Not one of my favourite Christmas cartoons by all means, but still well worth watching at once.

The story is very slight and drags ever so slightly in places, and the portrayals of some of the children are very stereotypical. Stereotypes that understandably may not (big emphasis on that) be for the easily offended and the way they're portrayed is very "of the time" and can be seen as outdated now.

However, the animation is rich and colourful, with very meticulous and beautifully drawn backgrounds and well-rendered character designs that don't look too stiff. Winston Sharples provides yet another outstanding music score, even in mediocre or worse cartoons Sharples' music was never among the flaws (if anything always one of the strengths or the best asset). Love the lusciousness of the orchestration here and how characterful and whimsical the music was without going overboard in either, even better was how well it fitted in the cartoon and how it merged with the action. The main song is very infectious too.

'Santa's Surprise' while not hilarious still offers plenty of amusement, with the funniest material coming from the Dutch boy, while also telling the story with the right amounts of charm and warmth, everything feeling very sweet and heart-warming by the end. While stereotypical the children are appealing and amusing, not falling into the traps of cloying sentiment or annoyance. Look out for Little Audrey in her first cartoon. The voice acting is dependably good.

All in all, stereotypical and slight but very sweet, well-made and charming. 7/10 Bethany Cox

While not a patch on the wonderful original, it's one of the better later sequels, 28 April 2016

Generally, 'The Land Before Time' sequels are not so bad, though none of them come close to the near-perfection of the charming and poignant original film. Of the sequels, from personal opinion 'Wisdom of Friends' was the only bad one, the rest range from slightly mediocre to pretty decent.

'Journey to Big Water' has problems, but generally it's one of the better later sequels (made around a point where the franchise was starting to feel over-milked after the eighth instalment or so). In fact, perhaps one of the better entries in the series.

On the most part, with the exception of some rushed-looking character designs, awkward movements and plastic-looking trees (for example), the animation is decent. There are some lovely vibrant colours, the backgrounds and sceneries are detailed, the underwater scenes are very beautifully animated and the storm and nature effects are some of the most vivid of the series. The music score fits nicely, with its share of whimsical parts, sinister parts and energetic parts, all lush in instrumentation and clever in orchestration.

The story may be predictable and episodic, but it's paced breezily, has real cuteness and charm without laying it too thick with the sentimentality and sugar, the conflict does have some genuine tension and the messaging and values (important ones that anybody can identify with) don't feel forced or heavy-handed. The characters are a mixed bag, Mo is adorable (almost as much as Chomper) and the sharptooth swimmer is suitably antagonistic. Ducky and Spike never fail to bring a smile to my face, both are cute and amusing.

However, the adult dinosaur characters are underwritten and have little in their material of worth. Petrie is a little annoying at times, Littlefoot is sometimes likable but bland in other parts while Cera is an annoying (sometimes to the point of being insufferable) brat. The voice work is also mixed, John Ingle's distinguished narrator and Kenneth Mars' distinguished Grandpa stand out in the adults, while the best voice work overall comes from Aria Noelle Curzon and Rob Paulson as Ducky and Mo. Thomas Dekker varies in confidence as the voice of Littlefoot, sometimes sincere but he struggles being natural in the weaker material, while Jeff Bennett and Anndi McAfee over-compensate, especially McAfee.

'Journey to Big Water's' biggest weaknesses are the dialogue and the songs, criticisms that are true for most of the sequels actually. The dialogue too often doesn't sound very natural, with the humorous parts coming over as corny and the emotional parts mawkish too often, though both have their moments. The songs are not just forgettable and unnecessary (not to mention very badly sung), but the lyrics are likely to have even the most tolerant of children squirming in their chairs in embarrassment, "Imaginary Friend" is particularly hard to sit through.

Overall, not great but decent. One of the better sequels. 6/10 Bethany Cox

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Expectations initially were mixed, expectations were exceeded, 28 April 2016

The 1967 animated film to me is still one of Disney's best of the "classic era". This is not just nostalgia talking, quite a few childhood favourites have not held up, but 'The Jungle Book' is an example of one that has.

Expectations were mixed for seeing this film. The trailer looked great, the voice cast is filled with enormous talent and the featurette was fascinating. It was just that, relating it to the other Disney live action adaptations, whether it was going to be one example of a re-boot that looked stunning, was well-written and performed, respected its original source material(s) and added its fresh spin, like 'Cinderella, or a well-made film with enough other decent elements to make it watchable but also one lacking in soul and charm, like 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Fortunately, 'The Jungle Book' is an even stronger example of the former, and is one of Jon Favreau's best films along with 'Iron Man'. Fans of the animation will love recognising the familiar characters and scenes and it was also really nice to see more of Rudyard Kipling's writing and story telling here, the ending being closer to that of the animated film. 'The Jungle Book' is wonderful on its own merits too, just like the Disney animated film was, which was a poor adaptation of the book but worked so well as a film on its own that it didn't matter.

Criticisms for the film are very few. The first criticism is that Kaa's scene and screen-time is far too short, a great character like Kaa deserves far more than a mere five minutes or so. And it is a shame because it is a very suspenseful and hypnotic scene with some of the film's most striking visuals, and the deceptively maternal story teller approach was beautifully written and delivered. Regrettably, the other criticism was "I Wanna Be Like You". While one of the highlights of the animated film, and one of Disney's most iconic moments, because the scene is darker and King Louie more intimidating (in size and manner), also because it comes out of nowhere, the light-hearted fun of the song that worked so brilliantly before just doesn't fit here (if Christopher Walken really did desperately want to sing the song, it didn't show in his singing because he sounded uninterested and hesitant).

On the other hand, the film looks amazing. The rich, expansive cinematography is some of the best of the year so far and the scenery and settings are so vividly detailed and colourful, that reading that it was shot entirely in a warehouse was a shock. The rendering of the animals are staggeringly realistic, especially Shere Khan, Bagheera and the monkeys. Favreau directs with a keen eye for detail and spectacle, yet doesn't forget the drama, cast or the storytelling once. John Debney's music score is full of energy, atmosphere, warm orchestration and vibrant emotion, its referencing of familiar themes feeling nostalgic and affectionate rather than cheap. As for the songs in the film, although "I Wanna Be Like You" was a disappointment "Bear Necessities" fitted right in and was as good-natured and easy-going as one can hope and "Trust in Me" is worth listening to if you stay for the closing credits, Scarlett Johansson with her low-register, smoky yet sensual tone does a surprisingly good job with the song.

'The Jungle Book's' script is very funny (Baloo getting the funniest lines, and some of them were hilarious) without being childish or simplistic while also easy to understand and thought-provoking, there is a good amount of depth too without being too dark or sugary sweet. The story moves quickly and is constantly enthralling, one thing it does better than the animated version is expanding on motivations and making characters more interesting (as great a villain as Shere Khan is in the animated film, his motivation to me seemed clearer here). The climax is dramatically satisfying and darkly tense.

A great job is done with the characters also. They're not complex, but they are likable and interesting, are very true in personality to their animated counterparts and all serve a point in the storytelling, some like Shere Khan and the wolves expanded upon. It was easy to identify with Mowgli, Baloo is a breath of fresh air and to me a great villain is one that one can totally see why the villain is hated or feared but one can also understand their point of view, which is the case with Shere Khan (this is true of the animated film too, but as Shere Khan has more of a back story here it came through stronger to me). The cast were a talented one to begin with and their talents absolutely shine through. Newcomer Neel Sethi does very credibly as Mowgli, it is incredibly hard to react against nothing and apart from a few naturally stiff moments to begin with he handles all the different emotional elements very well. The superbly chosen vocal cast are even better.

Bill Murray was born for Baloo (sounding far more engaged than as Garfield), his relaxed but witty voice-work matching the character's easy-going, good-natured personality. Idris Elba effectively puts dread into one's heart as Shere Khan, he's silky, regal, charismatic and genuinely menacing, though George Sanders brought over the suavity and oiliness more. Ben Kingsley is a stern yet sympathetic Bagheera, and Christopher Walken, in a characterisation that is like a mix of mobster boss, Colonel Kurtz and Walken's own mannerisms, makes King Louie intimidating but also entertaining. Scarlett Johansson's voice work for Kaa is eerily sensual, Giancarlo Esposito is a dignified Akeela and Lupita Nyong'o's Raksha is movingly compassionate.

In conclusion, a truly great film. Works very well as a live-action re-boot and works even more as a film in general. An epic visually stunning adventure, told with fun, heart and depth. 9/10 Bethany Cox

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