An orphaned boy, alone in the jungle and adopted and raised by wolves, finds himself the target of a terrifying danger and must go on a journey of self-discovery and survival. Along the way, he meets a new companion and comes up against a varied assortment of threats.
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling
Run Time: 105 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
With the movie rights to The Jungle Book in the open domain and free for any studio to adapt, and both Warner Bros. and Walt Disney eyeing up their own interpretations, we had better get used to Rudyard Kipling’s classic book being told on the big-screen. Warner has got their Andy Serkis-helmed version pegged for a 2018 release, leaving Disney to get in first with their telling of the story.
Assembling a big-name voice cast and positioning a more-than-capable director at the helm, Disney has set their stall out early. With this calibre of cast lending their powerful audio, there is little-to-no risk on that front, however when it comes to the lead role in this particular tale…then that’s where things get interesting.
Introducing the unknown Neel Sethi – as the only live-action character in a movie full of visual effects and computer-generated characters, no less – is a calculated chance taken by Favreau. It has to be said, however, at times he is a delight to watch. For his first feature film, at the tender age of 12, he does a superb job of capturing the essence of Mowgli wonderfully. And while his inexperience was inevitably going to show through on some occasions, resulting insomee rather wooden acting, we should remember that this is a child actor in a major movie production acting opposite mo-cap suits and tennis balls on sticks. Thankfully, the powerful and realistic CGI saves the scenes and allows you to remain immersed in the world that Favreau has created.
And about that world. With a movie based on such a well-loved book and tale, viewers are going to be expecting a rich and eclectic world of animals and environment. Thankfully, Favreau and the technical experts do not fail in this department. It will inevitably be compared to Avatar, and as ground-breaking as that film was when it comes to visual effects, this may be better. James Cameron was creating a world never seen before, whereas Favreau was charged with creating a world full of characters that we already knew. We had ideas of what a Baloo or Shere Khan would look like, would sound like, on the big screen. The results are incredible. And it isn’t just the characters; the vibrant green of the trees and the forests, the glistening blue waters. It genuinely looks like something straight out of an issue of National Geographic.
So with a lead putting his all into the role, a beautifully created world and realistic-looking characters in place, the last piece of the puzzle is that all-star cast. After a slow start, we get introduced to Bill Murray’s Baloo, and it is here that the movie really kicks off. Murray brings an energy and natural comedic wit which works perfectly. Virtually every scene he is in is a delight, with the Bare Necessities scene coming straight from the original cartoon and providing the film’s standout scene. Before viewing, I wondered how Favreau would treat the movie when it came to leaning towards its original musical element. The Bear Necessities scene works so smoothly and flows majestically, it is totally organic and could easily become one of the classic Disney movie sequences.
And that brings me to the film’s other musical sequence. While Christopher Walken is great as the enormous Mafia boss-like King Louie, his rendition of I Wanna Be Like You – while fantastically delivered – is nowhere near as organic and feels forced and out of place. A word also for the track that plays over the credits, a hypnotically beautiful track by Scarlett Johansson. Given her disappointingly brief appearance as the seductive Kaa, it makes me wonder why the song could not have been implemented into her scene with Mowgli.
And then there’s the movie’s villain.
Voiced with conviction mixed with pure evil, Idris Elba is delightfully hateful as the self-appointed king of the jungle. One scene, in particular, involving a pack of wolf cubs is suitably chilling and firmly establishes Shere as the dominant male and a bad guy so easy to hate. I did feel that the movie’s gearing towards all members of the family may have prevented Favreau from going to another level with Shere that would have really put the tiger over the edge in terms of villainy.
Shere is also responsible for the few moments in the movie where I debated the PG certificate attached. In my particular screening, there were a significant amount of young children, and while they happily took in the fun moments of Baloo watching on at Mowgli’s honey-garnering attempts, or the aforementioned Bear Necessities sequence, they were genuinely shocked and caught off-guard at the out-of-nowhere jump moments and menacing words from Khan.
There is a lot of dark tones at play here, especially for a Disney movie, and while the comedy (mainly when Baloo is on screen) is interjected well, a little more levity could have been added