Rudyard Kipling’s base collection of stories regarding orphan Mowgli and his jungle adventures have been adapted for the big screen countless of times, none more memorable than Disney’s animated classic The Jungle Book, released in 1967. The first of two reboots, the second of which being directed by Andy Serkis and released by Warner Brothers, hits, with Iron Man director Jon Favreau at the helm.
Orphan man cub Mowgli’s upbringing in the jungle by the wolf pack, lead by Raksha and Aketa (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito), hits turbulence when the fierce tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) intends to end his life. Lead by black panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley) to hopefully reach the man village, the pair run into a slithery serpent named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a cuddly sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and find themselves stumbling into the Monkey Kingdom and being held captive by their leader, the gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken).
Favreau’s energetic flair for all things fun transcends more than just the screen; the world of which his version of The Jungle Book is set is extraordinarily detailed. Wholly realised in its separate kingdoms, brimming with a cornucopia of wondrous animals, this world is one of the most extensive, visually stunning affairs since we were introduced to Pandora. Ably splicing together the use of photo-real visual effects, CGI and a live action main character, Mowgli himself played by newcomer Neel Stethi, the blend is seamless and awe-inducing. Whilst the barrier between real and computer-generated is for the most blurred, at first it may take audiences a few minutes to get used to these talking animals. It does help, however, when the likes of Kingsley, an authoritative though caring voice talent, and Murray’s impeccable display of irresistible likability and range of delirious amusement — the Bear Necessities never sounded more enjoyable — are on offer.
Elba’s villainous husk is spine-tingling as he aids the tiger’s genius design, with no muscle or step out of place ensuring this new vision of Mowgli’s tale is as accurate as it wants to be entertaining. Johansson’s deliciously entrancing Kaa coils and lures in audiences as much as our title character, though sadly is a little underused. The rest of the cast, also, are a dream come true. Nyong’o’s supremely caring mother wolf adds emotional heft, something the original was vastly missing, and the bonds Mowgli has with both her and leader of the pack Akela sends this reboot higher than initial expectations. King of the Swingers Christopher Walken adds a threatening, Kong-like gangster to King Louie which, along with Shere Khan ala 2016, provides a much darker, bleaker image for this animal kingdom — though kudos to fitting Gigantopithecus into the much loved song.
As for our newcomer, Stethi’s as adorably rambunctious as you might expect from a jungle-bound lad, ridden in bruises and scrapes which is a more realistic approach in regards to surviving in such a wild pack. This is the boy’s first rodeo, so grand gestures towards animals that may be wooden in person but coiling around him in delight after editing, but his performance is admirable and, for the most, spot on. Occasional over-exaggerations may pull audiences out of the realism aspect but never once does Stethi outfit his rule of Mowgli. Favreau, out of thousands, picked well. His ensemble is impeccable.
A few differences to the original animation or absent story progressions from the source material may anger hardcore fans, but those in dire need for a Disney fix, this is extraordinary work. Favreau is such a delightful filmmaker, holding firm the source that created the classic as much as adhering to new formats makes way for the audiences of today.
The Jungle Book 2016 is the way forward for Disney’s step towards rebooting their classics. Last year’s Cinderella touched upon their ability, but this shows truly what the studio are capable of. An exciting, thrilling adventure that holds firm a thumping heart, all of which revels in the beaming world of Favreau’s new vision. A delight from beginning to end.
Dir: Jon Favreau
Scr: Justin Marks
Cast: Neel Stethi, Sir Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken
Prd: Brigham Taylor, Jon Favreau
Music: John Debney
Runtime: 105 minutes
The Jungle Book is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital now.