Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyongo’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family
Age Rating: PG
Running Time: 105 Minutes
2016 is a year filled with destined-to-be critically-acclaimed children’s films. We have already seen that with the likes of Zootopia, Zootropolis; whatever people are deciding to call it these days, which struck and impressed adults with not only with its intelligence but its deep and globally relevant undertone. In terms of adult enjoyment, this bar has just been raised even more so with Jon Favreau’s live adaptation of the classic tale, THE JUNGLE BOOK.
If you had told me when I was a kid that Monica Geller’s billionaire, cage fighting boyfriend Pete Becker, from FRIENDS, would one day be directing an adaptation of one of my favourite childhood Disney films, well I would have been cringing at the thought of it, yet almost 20 years down the line, and with ELF and the IRON MAN trilogy behind him, I was very excited to see this latest Disney adaptation attempt, and it is safe to say that I was right to be so.
The start is every bit as stunning as Walt Disney’s most classic tales, with an opening credit sequence very reminiscent of the animated original in 1967. We are then thrown into the excitement of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) running with the wolves which have raised him as their own in the jungle, and the black panther, Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), who found Mowgli as a young boy and brought him into the world of being a “man-cub”. Loved by his new family, but clearly resented by the other animals around him, Mowgli struggles to fit in, and instead relies on his “tricks” to get by. This bewilders Bagheera and amuses others, but it infuriates Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), a bitter tiger who wears a scar on his face given to him by man and his lethal “red flower” (an intuitive insight into animals’ perceptions of fire), and who ultimately wants this young “man-cub” dead before he can become a threat to the jungle.
Forced out by his pack to the human world, in order to protect his loved ones from Shere Khan, Mowgli crosses paths with Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), a lazy, larger-than-life, honey-eating bear who shows him how to forget about his “worries” and his “strife”, and be the greatest “man-cub” that he can be.
The casting in this film is spectacular. Anybody doubting Idris Elba’s ability to voice the terrifying tiger is mistaken. From the moment Elba’s CGI’d Shere Khan enters the picture, you realise the sheer size (see what I did there!) of his impact on the animals around him, and Elba’s gritty and powerful voice emphasises this throughout the film.
Scarlett Johansson’s sensual yet conniving voice works perfectly for Kaa’s captivating appearance which removes the humour from this classic scene from the animated original, and instead makes it frightening. Similarly, although the visual appearance of King Louie, and the experience of Christopher Walken singing the classic “I Wanna Be Like You” is a clear impact of Favreau’s comical side, the director also ensures that Walken’s character isn’t a soft touch like he is in the animation, but instead another life threatening figure in Mowgli’s adventure, truly adding to the reality aspect of this 105 minute feature film.
Using Ben Kingsley for Bagheera is every bit as perfect as the original casting of Sebastian Cabot for the animated original in 1967. Kingsley’s wise and profound voice which is steeped in cinema history is made for such a character.
The stand-out casting though has to be Bill Murray as Baloo. His natural sarcasm and playful tone blend perfectly to create a modern take on Baloo who is just as brilliant to watch and listen to as Phil Harris’ original! Every scene with him brings laughter with it and a particular favourite of mine has to be the honey stealing moment with Mowgli and some of Baloo’s comical little friends.
This brings us to the newcomer Neel Sethi’s interpretation of the story’s protagonist, Mowgli. Personally, he nails it! When you put yourself in his shoes and imagine how he had to act entirely with imaginary CGI’d animals around him, and most likely just their voices, it turns into a very independent and ground-breaking performance for somebody at such a young age. To do all of that well whilst also having to try and capture the essence of a timeless animated children’s character is extremely impressive and something that I believe he should receive a lot of respect for. I am sure that this film will be an extremely large stepping stone for him into the world of a Hollywood career. Best of luck to him!
As you can see, there is very little to criticise about this latest live action masterpiece from Disney, but that is a rarity these days. In my eyes, as of late, live action films from Disney haven’t been at their best. INTO THE WOODS was terrible, TOMORROWLAND was shameful, CINDERELLA was good but not incredible, and even in MALEFICIENT which was superb, I still can’t stand watching Sharlto Copey on screen in anything other than THE A TEAM (where he is perfect as Murdoch). Yet, from start to finish, THE JUNGLE BOOK captivates you and brings the magic of the classics back to life, with a spot on cast and extremely impresive CGI. Personally, it has been about 15 years since I last watched the original animated adventure, and in all honesty, I can strongly recommend “un”familiarising yourself with this classic tale, if possible, simply so you can experience it all over again, in an incredibly put together journey from Mr. Jon Favreau.
“The legend will never be the same.”
Recommendation: Only experienced in 2D at the cinema, this film deserves an admission ticket! IMAX most likely adds to the beauty of this picture, and 3D probably has its value in several scenes. It would be criminal to wait for this one to go to DVD/Blu-Ray.