The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screenplay by Justin Marks
Cast – Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito
Running Time – 105 minutes
I went into this one with a bit of scepticism. The 1967 Disney animation has always been one of my favourite musicals, with its iconic soundtrack and brilliant voice cast, so I wasn’t sure a remake was necessary. However, I had heard good things from friends, and was very happy to find out they were right. This is a visually spectacular film that adapts elements of both the Disney classic and Kipling’s original stories and combines them to tell a recognisable story with enough innovation to enthral fans of the cartoon and a new audience in equal measure.
The story remains fundamentally the same; Mowgli, the man-cub, has been raised by wolves for ten years and knows only the ways of the jungle. However, with the return of Shere Khan the tiger, the wise panther Bagheera decides to return Mowgli to the man village for his own safety, leading to a series of adventures and encounters with classic characters like Baloo, Kaa, and King Louie.
The voice cast are fantastic. In some cases, like Bill Murray as Baloo and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, they perfectly fit with the 1967 version, whereas Christopher Walken’s King Louie portrayal is uniquely his own, and Scarlett Johansson brings a new seductive quality to Kaa, making the scene all the more unnerving. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is a more ferociously charismatic presence this time, while other characters are given more prominence than in the original, like Mowgli’s surrogate parents voiced by Giancarlo Esposito and Lupito Nyong’o.
As the only human presence in an entirely computer animated film, 12 year old Neel Sethi has an incredibly difficult role, but I think he rises to the challenge. There are a couple of moments where his line readings seem a little rushed or unfocused, but that fits with the character, and when he’s on form and interacting with animals in an artificial, but wholly convincing, environment he is a protagonist it’s easy to root for against the threats of the jungle.
Despite the great characterisation, the real magic of The Jungle Book lies in its animation. I’m not usually a fan of 3D cinema but this is one case where I would suggest giving it a try, though even in 2D the visuals are incredible. The CGI is so convincingly rendered, down to the individual hairs of animals, and the lush green of every vine, that despite the unreality of ninety nine percent of what is onscreen there is an immersive believability to the setting and characters that is lacking in any of the previous live action adaptations of Kipling.
A slight criticism of this version could be the inclusion of some of the old songs. It’s true that those moments jar a little with the more realistic tone of the rest of the film, but I defy anyone not to smile at the prospect of Bill Murray and Christopher Walken singing/reciting in their unique styles. My personal favourite is during the end credits where Scarlett Johannson’s version of Trust In Me gets a sixties lounge twist that really works.
The Jungle Book is currently showing in cinemas. Parents be warned that very young children could find some of the action a little intense, particularly scenes with Shere Khan, but by and large it is a visually beautiful, action packed update to the classic animation and is well worth seeing.
Calum Maclean, 20 May, 2016.