Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Neel Sethi, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson
Disney’s determination to resurrect their back catalogue continues this week, as Jon Favreau’s updating of the beloved 1967 animated musical of Rudyard Kipling’s classic arrives in cinemas. Suffice to say, any reservations that fans may have had going into this will surely be quelled as Favreau, writer Justin Marks and his team of visual effects artists, designers and animators have delivered a visually sumptuous and rousing family adventure sure to please fans of Disney’s beloved original, whilst also introducing younger audiences to the world their parents and elders fell in love with many years ago.
From the very offset, we know we’re in the hands of people who have complete and utter reverence for the source material. Filmed mostly on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles, Favreau and his team have done a remarkable job in crafting the world of young Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo and co. From the opening moments, the film immediately transports you to the wilds of the jungle as our young hero gallivants his way through treetops, as wolves race him along the ground and in the brush, setting the tone for a grand adventure in every sense of the word. The story itself is nothing original. Unlike say, Maleficent, for example, which attempted to reinvent its classic story to somewhat middling results, The Jungle Book chooses instead to embrace its narrative, hitting all the familiar beats when it needs to, featuring characters as familiar to us as butter on sliced bread. Depending on what you’re hoping to get out of this latest rendition, this may delight and/or disappoint you. Anyone looking for anything thematically richer than the basic story will be sorely disappointed, but for those wanting to see their beloved characters brought stirringly to life in stunning photo realistic CG animation, complete with two cases full of nostalgia will be gleefully overjoyed.
I found myself at times treading both sides of the line. I couldn’t help but long for something new, something different, some new direction or some bold risk now and again to keep things interesting. But in the end, it didn’t much matter, for when the surface narrative and these characters are so lovingly and joyously brought to life, I found myself going along with the adventure.
A big part of the film’s success are the performances of its cast, both vocal and real. With wide eyed innocence and sheer brazen confidence, newcomer Neel Sethi is terrific as young orphan Mowgli, completely selling every single moment and interaction, despite acting with clearly nothing but a blue screen and maybe a couple of tennis balls on a stick. The vocal cast is also uniformly excellent. Ben Kingsley brings sincere wisdom to the whole of Bagheera, while Bill Murray is on point as Baloo. Lupita Nyong’o brings a grace and beauty as Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mother Raksha, but it is Idris Elba’s Shere Khan who stands out. A classic villain already, now vividly brought to terrifying realisation thanks to gorgeous animation and Elba’s stoic and hardened tones. The only downside is Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, reduced to but a single scene, and existing primarily to deliver a bunch of exposition in a messily handled misstep. But thankfully, it is the only misstep.The world itself is gorgeous to look at. Indeed, this is a film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Not since Avatar has a fully formed CG world been this beautifully realised, this majestically immersive. For several times throughout, I forgot that this was all CG and found myself engrossed in the landscape and luscious vegetation of the jungle. At moments, it almost threatens to overshadow the rest of the film; as the story sort of meanders from plot beat to plot beat, it’s easy to become lost in the details of the world and the various creatures that populate it.
But still, minor flaws aside, this is still a rip roaring adventure, made with heart and utter reverence for its source material, namely the animation on which this is mainly based. Yes, it offers absolutely nothing beyond the surface detail, aside from a case of blatant nostalgia, but that’s not altogether a bad thing. In the end, this is a grand adventure for the whole family that only a Hollywood studio such as Disney could produce.