Jungle casts its spell
THE JUNGLE BOOK (PG)
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man) Starring: Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson Verdict: No need to read. Just look at the pictures!
ON select occasions at the cinema, looks are indeed everything.
Most viewers will heartily agree once they lay eyes on the astonishing visual spectacle mounted by The Jungle Book.
The special effects technology responsible for this achievement takes the photorealistic techniques used in the ground-breaking The Life of Pi and lifts them to a whole new level.
You would never have guessed that both the lush jungle settings and the vast menagerie of animals moving so convincingly within them were all digitally composed inside a greenscreen FX warehouse overlooking a Los Angeles freeway.
Such is the immediacy and authenticity of The Jungle Book’s spellbinding imagery that you barely notice the storytelling never quite comes together in the same satisfying way.
While director Jon Favreau has cherry-picked a few fresh elements from the many Jungle Book tales penned by author Rudyard Kipling, this new adaptation takes many of its structural cues from the animated Disney family fave from 1967.
As many will readily recall, that classic cartoon was also a sprightly musical of some considerable quality.
Though two of its catchiest songs have been retained (I Wanna Be Like You and Bare Necessities) to lighten the mood when needed, this modern update reinterprets the familiar adventures of the little man-cub as the stuff of dour drama.
We join the impish Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi) just as he is coming to the end of his time with the noble wolfpack tribe that raised him.
The evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) has put a contract on the head of the child, which forces Mowgli to make tracks back towards human civilisation.
Without his trusted mentor, the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), to advise him, Mowgli finds his marathon trek tough going until he crosses paths with a big-hearted, honey-addicted bear named Baloo (Bill Murray). Though Shere Khan is hot on his trail, Mowgli’s chilledout alliance with Baloo – the true highpoint of an otherwise middling screenplay – keeps the kid on the right track towards safety.
With the likes of Murray, Elba and also Scarlett Johansson (as the sinister snake Kaa) delivering vivid vocal character work, young Sethi is free to just be himself in most scenes.
What his performance lacks in true presence – bearing in mind he spends the entire film emoting at CGI figures he could not see – Seth makes up for with simple, natural appeal.
However, it is the complete sensory overload of the jungle itself that is the real star of the show here. This is one vital visual experience that justifies the added expense of a long, luxuriating look through 3D glasses.