DIR: Jon Favreau • WRI: Justin Marks • PRO: Jon Favreau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Mark Livolsi • DES: Christopher Glass, Abhijeet Mazumder • MUS: John Debney • CAST: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Neel Sethi, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Was a live-action remake of Disney’s 1967 animated hit really necessary? No. That said, does Jon Favreau’s re-interpretation make for good watching? Oh yes! Visually stunning and narratively engaging, Favreau brings The Jungle Book into a new era with a slightly more mature – though never dour – tone.
After being found in the jungle as an infant by the benign panther Bagheera (Kingsley), Mowgli (Sethi) has spent his life being raised by wolves, in particular the loving Raksha (Nyong’o). The problem, of course, is that Mowgli is no wolf but a ‘man-cub’, and as he grows older his place in the pack grows ever uncertain. When the pack’s peaceful existence is threatened by the killer tiger Shere Khan (Elba), Mowgli must decide whether he will become part of man’s world or continue in the only life he’s ever known. This film is an example of CGI done right; the jungle’s luscious environment feels tangible and immersive. But what really pushes the film from the ‘good’ into ‘great’ category is the rendering of its animal characters. There is none of the usual disconnect between the characters and actors portraying them. Every movement and every emotion is conveyed with subtly, a slight flick of the tail, ears flattening downwards, pupils dilating, whiskers quivering.
Praise must also be given to the voice cast, all of whom succeed in creating for their characters a definitive space in the story. Bill Murray is on-point as the terminally lazy, but roguishly charming, Baloo, playing perfectly off Ben Kingsley’s fatherly but tightly upright Bagheera as they navigate their way through the jungle in their attempt to return Mowgli to the world of man. A film is only as good as its villain, however, and Idris Elba is convincingly chilling as Shere Khan, who bears more stripes than the ones in his fur. Christopher Walken is also surprisingly delightful as King Louie, giving the giant primate an almost gangster-ish twang that shouldn’t work, but does. While not a musical like the 1967 version, two of the more famous songs do make it into film and are delivered well by their respective performers. Overall the film works and, at 1 hour 45 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There are a few problems, however. Most of them are nit-picks and will not deter from the viewers enjoyment. Unfortunately, there is one problem that cannot be ignored – Mowgli himself. At only twelve years old it may seem unfair to criticised Neel Sethi’s performance too harshly. But, when the entire film centres on the child actor’s performance, they cannot be left off the hook entirely. Sethi’s acting is the film’s weak link. Though certainly likeable, Mowgli is a one-dimensional character who is difficult to really empathise with. The concept of nature versus nature is a truly interesting one, but Mowgli’s journey is never examined to the extent that it could have been. We cheer for him because we know he’s the films protagonist, but do we really care about him? Eh… Show us more of Baloo devising plans for honey hunting.
This is a film that will satisfy both kids and those who grew up with the original animated film. Smart, wonderful to look at, and well-paced, The Jungle Book has all the bare necessities and more.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The Jungle Book is released 15th April 2016