WARNING! Some spoilers ahead.
The 1967 Disney animated film The Jungle Book is a beloved classic and a personal favourite of mine, so Disney’s decision to do a live action remake/reboot/reimiagining was something I approached with some trepidation. How could it match the old film, and how would it treat characters I loved?
Turns out, it would do pretty well on both counts.
How close the animated version stuck to Kipling’s book is a mystery to me, but this movie holds true to the older film, while developing and expanding some of the themes and storylines.
Jon Favreau directs a film which is effortlessly charming, involving and gorgeously realised. The plot follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy, who having been found in the jungle as an infant by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) has been raised amongst a wolf pack.
Despite the love of his adopted mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) he is still an outsider, failing to keep up and aware of his differences. Pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) has taught him the law of the Jungle, and treats him warmly but disapproves of his inventions which he calls “tricks”.
During a dry season there is a water truce, where none can attack others at the watering hole and this brings Mowgli to the attention of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a vicious tiger who carries scars from previous encounters with man and who threatens that after the dry season he will kill Mowgli and any who attempt to stop him.
The wolf pack debates what to do next, and Mowgli volunteers to leave. Bagheera offers to lead him to the “man village” and they set off. Shere Khan encounters them, injuring Bagheera but Mowgli escapes. Angry, Shere Khan visits Akela, who says that their quarrel is over, but the tiger kills him and takes over the turf, saying he will remain until Mowgli returns.
Alone and lost Mowgli encounters more of the jungle residents including the Gigantopithecus (large orangutan like ape) Louis (Christopher Walken) who rules the monkeys within the ruins of a temple and the hypnotising python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).
He also befriends a lazy, sneaky sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) who encourages him to use his tricks for their gain and whom he lives with for a time. Bagheera arrives and Mowgli argues with both animals, and discovers the news of Akela’s death. Stealing fire from the man village he races to confront Shere Khan. Can he defeat the tiger? And what consequences will his use of fire have?
I loved this movie because Favreau really succeeds in creating characters who stand on their own and is helped by a wonderful voice cast. As the only human on screen for much of the film Neel Sethi does well as Mowgli, but there are a few creaky moments, but as child performances go it’s a good one.
Luckily the voice cast work well with him and also in making their characters come alive. All inhabit their roles well and there are some nice alterations from the cartoon.
Murray’s Baloo is a delight, a slacker who ambles through life and getting some great lines, all aided by Murray’s easy, warm delivery. Baloo is funny, charming and instantly lovable. He is the standout but not alone in his success in bringing a convincing humanity to the animal characters.
Ben Kingsley provides a quiet dignity to Bagheera while stopping the character from being a lecturing killjoy, and he ensures that the panther’s concern and affection for the boy is obvious throughout. As the villain of the piece Idris Elba makes Shere Khan a menacing presence, and his rumbling tones are well suited to the predator.
Nyong’o also impresses with scenes between Raksha and Mowgli having real emotion, and she fills every word with maternal love and protective qualities. When Mowgli decides to leaves it tugs at the heart strings and MWF got rather teary at this point. It lends the movie genuine emotion and adds weight to the story
Possibly the biggest change is King Louis, who goes from the comedic, singing orangutan of the older film to a massive ape who Walken fills with menacing gravitas, turning him into a sort of mob boss figure. The hulking Louis and his army of monkeys are a nice change to the story, and the sequence in the temple is one of the strongest in the film.
All the characters are filled with personality and yet the magnificent CGI means they look sensational. There’s very little anthropomorphic adjustment, and yet they convey their emotions clearly.
The effects are sensational and some of the settings are simply magnificent, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen as the junglescapes are beautiful.
There are some solid action sequences and a couple of wince inducing animal conflicts, with the beasts clashing in furious sequences. To anyone with young kids, these could be quite upsetting for them, and there are some scary parts. But for everyone else I wholeheartedly recommend this movie as it is gorgeous to look at and populated with wonderful characters. It’s fantastic family film making from Favreau.
Verdict: An utter delight, Favreau and a sensational voice cast bring the characters to life, in a story that is full of emotion, charm and thrills. It’s very good fun and looks amazing. Magnificent. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.