Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray & Ben Kingsley
Synopsis: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Rating: PG Duration: 105 minutes Release date: 15 April (UK)
Understandably, there is to be an air of apprehension toward another remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book. So revered is the animated original, that any attempt to recapture the magic held within the 1967 classic will surely be taken with a huge pinch of salt and perhaps, some cynicism too. Any negative feelings can be left at the door though. With Jon Favreau directing we have a film that both honours and improves on the original, leaving audiences with a film that is truly spectacular.
The Jungle Book is that rare beast of film, in that it takes the time to regard what worked in the original film and source material and, dare I say, betters it. Through some wonderful CGI and motion capture, coupled with a lot more characterisation, The Jungle Book looks magnificent and has moments that are heart warming and terrifying. The suspense wasn’t always quite there in the 1967 version, but the full force of the jungle is felt throughout the film.
Despite the film being shot on a sound stage and everything but Mowgli being created through photo-realistic computer imagery, not one ounce of the film feels forced or fake and like Jurassic Park did back in 1993, there is a real sense of wonder. Each animal is created in such detail that not only do they look entirely real, but they convey genuine emotion. These animals don’t just talk, and yes sing, but they laugh and cry and hurt making the film feel all the more wonderful.
The genius behind the characters lies in their casting and Jon Favreau’s desire to flesh them out. More time is given to establish the stories of these characters, giving a sense of feeling to their actions and what motivates them. As for their respective actors, it’s hard to imagine it getting any better than it does here. Bill Murray as Baloo is as near to perfection as you can get, his sardonic wit and laid back charm are ideal and once he and Mowgli meet, the film really picks up pace.
Mowgli (Neel Sethi) essentially has to carry the entire film on his young shoulders. Sethi is starring in his first full length film and has the unenviable task of being the only actor, barring a brief dream sequence, to feature in the film. He carries himself well, and despite struggling with some of the more dramatic scenes, it’s a very accomplished debut. It’s interesting how the rest of the actors are cast, with Scarlett Johansson playing Kaa like a tempting seductress, while Christopher Walken’s King Louie feels more like a gangster searching for the power to rule the jungle.
With a touch of sadness, Garry Shandling’s warm humour has an all too brief role as Ikki, reminding us of his terrific talents. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito bring immense warmth to Mowgli’s adopted parents; Raksha and Ekela giving the film an emotional core.
As a director, Jon Favreau always seems to be able to get the best out of his actors and has the ability to make it all seem so much fun. His best films; Elf, Iron Man and Chef are all great, while even his poorer films are better than most of the crap that Hollywood churns out. And yet The Jungle Book feels like it could be his best film yet. So joyous and full of adventure is it, that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the world that is playing out in front of you. Some may argue that elements feel forced or perhaps it sticks too close to the formula of the original, but these are minor quibbles. The Jungle Book 2016 is so rapturous and eager to please that it’s hard to imagine a film being more enjoyable this year.