The classic Rudyard Kipling Jungle Book stories have had a long, rippling, effect on literature and on screen. A lot of people, like me, have happy memories of sitting down and watching an old VHS tape of the 1967 Disney classic animation. Remakes and reboots have been a controversial issue, over the last decade especially, however I’ve always believed that with the right approach and methodology no filmic concept should be dismissed out of hand, and there is always potential in rediscovery.
Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub raised by Raksha (Lupita N’yongo) among a wolf-pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). He was brought to the wolves as a baby by the Black Panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley) who has since served as a guardian to the boy. During a water truce between the animals of the jungle the fierce tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens Mowgli’s life. To keep him safe Bagheera agrees to escort Mowgli to a nearby man village. Along the way Mowgli must deal with a multitude of other jungle creatures such as the snake Kaa (Scarlet Johansen), Gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken) and the free loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray).
Director Jon Favreau, DOP Bill Pope and the numerous talented visual artists responsible for the design of the film should be applauded for the fantastic world they have managed to create. Crafting a completely digital living jungle is breath taking enough but populating it with the amount of fantastically detailed environments and animals they have done is truly astounding. Neel Sethi is the only live action actor to appear in the film; however you immediately forget this thanks to the brilliant CGI The Jungle Book uses to conjure these creatures to being. Their lips sync perfectly with their speech and the movement whether crawling, walking, running or leaping is phenomenally realistic. The best work is that of the villainous Shere Khan, portrayed with brilliant menace by Idris Elba, whose beautiful design juxtaposes with his aggression and ruthlessness. Neel Sethi, in his first ever acting role, does an excellent job as Mowgli. Considering he spent the entire film shoot on a green screen reacting to pretend animals he delivers a touching and heartfelt performance that matches up to the prolific ensemble. Everybody in the cast delivers, but Bill Murray’s Baloo steals every scene he’s in. One of the most popular and beloved Disney creations of all time the role of Baloo was always going to be a difficult task but Murray’s combination of humour and heartfelt, and his relaxed, yet somehow powerful, line delivery have succeeded in bringing the character out of his animated ‘hibernation’ and back on the big screen to be loved all over again by young and old. The music is both nostalgically pleasing and impossibly triumphant, and how can anyone not like Christopher Walken as a giant monkey singing one of the jazziest songs of all time. There are a few narrative issues, problems with making the structure of the film work to be a successful collaboration of both Kipling’s story and the previous animated feature. But I’m not sure too many people are going to care thanks to the joyous romp that the film manages to be.
In the end it is a delight to report that The Jungle Book is a visual masterpiece, a fond nostalgia trip and one of the best films of the year so far rolled into one. Knowing that Warner Brothers also have a live action adaptation planned for release in 2018, directed by Andy Serkis, they’re going to have their work cut out as the bar has been set pretty darn high, and I highly recommend a trip to the jungle as an (undeserved smirk) ‘Bear-necessity’.
Review by Alexander Halsall