Everyone is familiar with the 1967 animation, so this new version of The Jungle Book had a lot to live up to. Those who were concerned need not have worried, though, because this film definitely delivers, in a big way. Directed by Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame, it gives new life to a much-loved story. The story is much the same – man-cub Mowgli attempts to escape the jungle while under threat from the tiger, Shere Khan, and meets an assortment of characters along the way. A lot of people must have been wary of this version before release as the screenwriter, Justin Marks, has only one other movie credit to his name but the changes he has made to the original Rudyard Kipling book are very effective and don’t seem forced.
In his on-screen debut as Mowgli, newcomer Neel Sethi leads the cast, and he does an extraordinary job considering it’s his first ever role (and most of his co-stars are, well, not actually there). There’s certainly an all-star voice cast behind him, though. Bill Murray voices the iconic bear Baloo, in by far the best casting in the film; it’s a hilarious take on the role and Murray lends it his typical charm. Idris Elba, too, excels as the intimidating Shere Khan. Scarlett Johansson fans might feel short-changed, however, as her character Kaa, the snake appears in only one – completely pointless – scene, which seems to exist only to provide exposition, disappointing considerng Kaa is one of the most iconic characters from the original. Christopher Walken is King Louie, and although larger than former interpretations, he is still very convincing. Other members of the cast include Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito.
There aren’t as many songs as the original, which is to be expected, but the ones that do occur do not seem out of place and are entertaining. The main issue with this film for some viewers will be the CGI, however, it is extremely convincing. There’s an incredible density in each shot, the detail is something to behold in itself. It is hard to imagine that the only live action scenes filmed were Neel Sethi on a green screen. Much credit must also be given to cinematographer Bill Pope, whose beautifully-crafted, long takes of important scenes really add to the experience. This is the crux of the film: it is an experience. The fast direction by Favreau provides fruitful action scenes that have depth, often lacking from modern shaky-cam action sequences, and watching the action unfold is a treat for the eyes. The Jungle Book will take some by surprise, and it’s surely better than anyone expected even when compared with the original. It’s no surprise that a sequel is rumoured to be in development.
Image courtesy of Disney