The Jungle Book sees Disney’s continued march, re; cash-in, of turning all its classic animations into live action adaptations. With the likes of Alice In Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella already released to solid box office takings we’ll next get the likes of Beauty And The Beast, Dumbo and the long gestating Pinocchio. Of course given its animal orientated subject matter The Jungle Book, on paper at least, would appear to be one of the more tricky stories to bring to life.
The tale follows closely to the Disney original and of course Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories. So when he is found in the jungle Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is taken by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to live with the wolf pack and raised by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). But when tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) catches whiff of the man-cub living in the jungle he wants nothing more than to eat him. So Bagheera and Mowgli set off into the jungle to return the young boy to the safest place for him; back with other people. Along their travels they meet a collection of creatures including lazy Baloo The Bear (Bill Murray), tricksy snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and fire craving ape King Louie (Christopher Walken).
While the plot, if you are familiar with the Disney original, is never likely to surprise you in any way what Jon Favreau has created is a wonderfully visual rendition of a classic story. This Jungle Book positively brims with life. The CGI creatures are staggering and that perfect balance between real and ever so slightly character driven creations.
This is in no small part thanks to the stunning work achieved by the Moving Picture Company. There are clearly influences from such films as Babe but in particular Life Of Pi. In fact The Jungle Book shares much in common with Ang Lee’s Oscar winning tiger on a boat opus but aimed at a much younger audience. So life-like are most of the animals that, like in such films as Avatar, you soon forget you’re watching a mostly motion-capture creation. A film shot, for the most part, on sound stages with little of the life, flora and fauna on physical display. At times Favreau creates images so indelible you feel as if they’ve been lifted straight from an illustrated edition of the book. Mowgli and Bagheera silhouetted against the jungle as they traverse a branch is a moment that brings a broad smile to the face.
At times the predictable nature of the story causes moments of lag but there is are wonderful themes throughout to carry the interest. The climax, which is tweaked to allow all the animals their moment to unite against the common enemy, is hugely and fist-pumpingly uplifting.
The vocal talent is perfectly cast. Idris Elba demonstrates that he should probably ignore the calls for him to be Bond and plump for a Bond villain instead, his Shere Khan is so enjoyably sneering. Scarlett Johansson is fleeting but memorable as Kaa the snake, her husky, hypnotic tones perfectly capturing the ambiguity of the character. Kingsley and Nyong’o both imbue their characters with a sense of protective gravity. Meanwhile Christopher Walken and Bill Murray as King Louie and Baloo respectively are so perfectly cast you feel as if they’ve always been these parts. Special mention though goes to Neel Sethi for managing to make Mowgli both jungle savvy but also adorably innocent. His wide-eyed gaze makes you wonder if, like us, he’s seeing these animals for real.
A magical and thoroughly enjoyable Disney brought to life romp, The Jungle Book will have you a big old king of the swingers.