STARRING: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Ritesh Rajan, Garry Shandling and Brighton Rose
An orphan boy is raised in the jungle with the help of a pack of wolves, a bear, and a black panther.
The Jungle Book focuses on the story of a young boy raised by a pack of wolves, ever since he was brought to them by a black panther known as Bagheera. When a Bengal tiger named Shere Khan promises to kill the ‘man cub’, Bagheera decides to take Mowgli back to the nearest man village outside of the jungle, taking them on an epic journey to escape Shere Khan’s wrath and encounter some colourful characters along the way, including a certain bear named Baloo.
The Jungle Book is the latest Disney film where they take one from their animated classic catalogue and give it a live action adaptation, which has Iron Man director Jon Favreau at the helm. While Disney’s live action remakes/retellings over the last couple of years have been rather forgettable in my eyes, Cinderella last year managed to give Disney a boost by actually being the first one to be actually a good film. Thankfully, not only does Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book surpass expectations of what I expected, it is arguably the best live action retelling from their catalogue that they’re done so far.
Visually this film is jawdroppingly stunning, especially when you take into consideration that all the locations in the film are computer-generated VFX, you almost believe in certain moments that there’s no visual effects being used especially with one sequence that tells the passing of the seasons in a time-lapse sequence that you believe it to be real. The animal designs are terrifically done from how you can buy into the fact that they’re talking characters to their animalistic movements. I like how they tweaked Shere Khan’s story to fit this film version as we get why he has a personal vendetta in killing Mowgli and every time he appears on screen you just feel the menace he brings to the table and that’s down to Idris Elba’s voice performance here. Bill Murray as Baloo is an absolute delight to hear just as it is to watch how the character interacts with Mowgli and Bagheera, also very well played by Ben Kingsley. Also bringing in Christopher Walken in to play King Louie and have him sing ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ just brought a smile to my face as I was hearing it….because it’s Christopher bloody Walken! This take on The Jungle Book happens to find the right balance between light joyful humour and dark menacing seriousness like the children’s films of old, with a few scenes here actually scaring a few children in the screening I was at.
In terms of negatives with the fact that newcomer Neel Sethi’s performance may come off as weak to some of the viewers but I personally thought it was good considering that this was a kid that had to act around green screen and rubber balls throughout production. Though she does well with the voice she provides in the film, Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa only appears briefly in the films runtime and Mogwli’s family bond with the wolf pack I wish was explored more personally in the film in the buildup before he begins his adventure heading off with Bagheera to be taken to the man village. While the opening chase sequence is thrilling in terms of scale and how it’s achieved, there’s a few more big set pieces that have some shaky cam techniques that kind of make a few sequences difficult to watch in terms of what is happening for a few seconds. It was a given that some of the classic songs from the animated film would feature in this version and while you will find ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ in the film, it’ll leave the viewer either with a grin on their face or believing that it just doesn’t fit with the tone of ‘realism’ that the film has been going with.
Definitely the best Disney live action retelling film to date, with some memorable voice performances from Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and especially Idris Elba, with a good performance from young actor Neel Sethi. The special effects are absolutely terrific but there’s a few things I which were explored more to enhance my experience of the film. 8/10