Release date: 15 April 2016
Running time: 105 min
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o.
The latest in a slew of re-imagined Disney classics, The Jungle Book has a bigger weight of expectation than Maleficent or Cinderella. Favreau has cannily decided to keep some of the elements that made the 1967 interpretation so memorable, including the songs, but has taken a U-turn in terms of atmosphere to give the jungle a more sinister edge. It would be easy to lump this is in with the whole ‘darker, grittier’ mantra which has dominated many more recent remakes, but to do so here would be a disservice to what is a quite remarkable piece of filmmaking.
A technical marvel, The Jungle Book is one of the most gorgeous CGI films to ever grace the screen. Comparisons to Avatar and Life of Pi are likely to be plentiful -and justified- but this manages to stand on its own two feet. The photorealism of the animals, combined with the dense, thick jungle lends a thrilling authenticity. It all moves forward at a whipcrack pace too, hitting the ground running and barely stopping for a breath until the perma-chill Baloo arrives to take things down a notch.
The cast is stellar, too. Bill Murray as Baloo is the most obvious but ingenious voice-casting decision, and whoever thought of Walken to voice King Louie deserves a pat on the back. After Mowgli’s nail-baiting narrow escape from Shere Khan and Kaa, it almost comes as a surprise to hear ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘I wanna be Like you’ being sung with a similar joviality to their original recordings. Thankfully though the musical intervals don’t feel out of place, and never threaten to disrupt. Neel Sethi’s Mowgli is the only actor who appears in the flesh; a tall task to ask of a young lad with next to no acting experience. He manages fairly well though, aping both Mowgli’s cheeky charm and belligerent stubbornness.
Most importantly though, The Jungle Book feels like a truly cinematic experience. The thrilling action alone is worth a trip to the cinema, but from the moment the iconic, mysterious theme invites us into the jungle, we are instantly under its spell. There are those who will worry about its ability to live up to the animated original, but this cleverly makes a few deliberate choices to distance itself, with some extra bits from Kipling’s source material and other bits excised entirely. This doesn’t stop the pang of nostalgia from taking hold mind you, but when it does it feels right.