Release date: 15th April 2016/Watch the trailer here
Disney has fallen into a habit of late of putting out live-action reimaginings of its animated classics when the studio is short on original ideas, each with varying success. Fortunately, director Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book is an automatic crowd-pleaser, succeeding both at the box office and with audiences and critics alike – and deservedly so. Taking its inspiration from the 1968 animation as well as Rudyard Kipling’s original stories, the film is a respectful amalgamation of the two, with all of the visual bravado that one would expect from the director of Iron Man, but enough heart to make it unmistakably Disney.
The Jungle Book tells the story of a young ‘man-cub’ by the name of Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi, raised by wolves but forced to flee his jungle home after being threatened by the tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba, in one of his three Disney voice roles of 2016). Although Mowgli has the help of the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and a friendly bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), he encounters various foes as he journeys through the jungle to find a new home within the nearby ‘man-village’.
What instantly stands out about The Jungle Book, more so than anything else, is just how beautiful it is. The film creates a sumptuous, stunning jungle environment, inhabited by a diverse host of creatures, each with their own personalities and each so perfectly realised that at times it is quite difficult to believe that they are not real, living, breathing beings.
It is this beauty that enables the film to succeed even when its story wavers, along with a charming lead performance by Neel Sethi. As Mowgli, he carries the whole film with the sort of charisma that older and far more experienced actors have been known to struggle with – a feat which is made even more impressive when you consider that his co-stars were never actually alongside him, and that the majority of his filming experience involved a lot more green screen than jungle.
The voice cast is another example of faultless casting, with each actor sounding like they were born to breathe life into their characters. Bill Murray, of course, stands out as Baloo, bringing much-needed lightness and humour to Favreau’s darker take on the classic tale. Idris Elba, too, is perfection as the evil Shere Khan, while Scarlett Johansson’s voice is the ideal balance of danger and seduction for the snake, Kaa.
Even Christopher Walken, who puts his own The Godfather-esque spin on the iconic King Louie character, never once falters. His Louie is a frightening figure, and his version of ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ (one of The Jungle Book‘s rare musical moments) is a threatening rendition; a far cry from the uptempo Sherman brothers original.
Taking on such a beloved story was always going to be a challenge, but the magic of The Jungle Book’s breathtaking visuals would be nothing without the excitement that fortunately comes with them. Favreau has brought to life these characters for a whole new generation, and in the process he has created an instant family classic that sets the standard for how beautiful and immersive all blockbusters should be.