Whether you mind if Disney continue to dig deep in its Aladdin’s cave of animated treasures for live action inspiration, fails to become a necessity within the first five minutes of Jon Favreau’s aping of the 1967 classic.
A menagerie of jungle animals gather around a watering hole to drink, you have no idea where the lines that blur reality and computer trickery exist, and frankly you’ll forget to even look for them. It’s so photorealistic that you can feel the scorch of the sun and the drying of your mouth, but that may also be because it’s agape like a bathing crocodile, your jaw on the floor. Oh, and the story’s pretty good too.
The plot doesn’t stray too far from the Mouse House’s beloved adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s book. Man Cub, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has been raised by Wolves since birth, but with a worsening drought, the peace pact made between species is teetering on brink of collapse, something that Shere Khan (Idris Elba) the tiger is proactive in ending, so that he can seek retribution on the men who scarred him by killing the boy.
Aware of this burgeoning threat, Bagheera (Ben Kinglsey) the panther decides it’s time Mowgli was returned to his own kind, so along with back scratching bear, Baloo (Bill Murray), the trio journey through jungles, stampedes, and monkey kingdoms in order to outrun Shere Khan’s blood lust.
Sumptuous to consume and creatively alive, there is so much going on visually, all in a completely coherent way, that you’re bound to miss things on your first visit to the jungle; the macaque monkeys circling the fur of the impressively rendered King Louis (Christopher Walken), a porcupine having trouble reversing his prickly derriere into its hole, and the kind of detail in the long grass that would make Terence Malick woozy. In terms of an immersive experience, Jungle Book is the best use of technology imagination manifestation since Avatar.
There’s also a fair dollop of action in the refreshingly brief run time; Favreau creates a Mufasa rivalling wildebeest stampede, a breathless monkey run that utilises the booming audio effects superbly, and the finale is an intense piece of action with clarify.
Of course, the kids will queue for the animals, and the casting is just about perfect. Escorting impressive newcomer, Neel Sethi through the vegetation is Bill Murray’s Baloo, who does enough to make the character his own after Phil Harris’s iconic voicework, his sardonic wit making him the perfect grizzly man. Telling an annoying armadillo that he has “never been a more endangered species than you are at the moment” is from the actors vintage. Walken makes a surprisingly great King Louie, especially during the re-worked version of “I wanna be like you”, Kingsley makes Bahgeera as loveably pompous as you’d hoped, but Johannson has surprisingly little screen time as Kaa, the seductress serpent.
The real stand-out is Elba, as the utterly frightening Frosties poster boy. Perhaps the most memorable beast from the 67 toon, George Sanders loquacious reading was a lot to live up to. But Elba grounds the film, giving it a threatening reality to juxtapose the lighter moments. All of the best children’s films have a hide-behind-the-fingers bad guy, and his growly delivery is perfectly married with the portrayal of that of the scarred tiger.
Some might grumble with the way things are tied up at the end, or at how strictly it adheres to what we’ve seen gone before, but this never drags its paws, and I couldn’t be fonder.
Review by Matthew Rodgers