The Jun­gle Book

Empire (UK) - - CINEMAS - OUT /

PG 106 MINS. DI­REC­TOR Jon Favreau CAST (VOICES) Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, Idris Elba, Bill Mur­ray, Ben Kings­ley; Neel Sethi

Raised by a pack of wolves, man-cub Mowgli (Sethi) is forced to re­turn to “the man vil­lage” when blood­thirsty tiger Shere Khan (Elba) gets his scent in his nos­trils. But get­ting there won’t be straight­for­ward. ou can’t ac­cuse Dis­ney of timid­ity when it comes to min­ing its back cat­a­logue of an­i­mated clas­sics for live­ac­tion lolly. there’s an op­tion that avoids pro­vok­ing the wrath of tra­di­tion­al­ists, and that’s hav­ing an­other crack at the clunkers — gussy­ing up a Black Caul­dron or an Oliver & Com­pany. In­stead, it’s plumped for the clas­sics, turn­ing Sleep­ing Beauty into Malef­i­cent and Cin­derella into, well, Cin­derella. and now, armed with those sim­ple bare ne­ces­si­ties of life — mil­lions of dol­lars, and all the CGI that buys — Jon Favreau has tack­led the beloved 1967 ver­sion of Rud­yard Ki­pling’s The Jun­gle Book.

the re­sult is one of the most vis­ually sump­tu­ous block­busters this side of Avatar. From the off, we are plunged into ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­mer­sive sur­round­ings — lush green forests, stark deserts, wa­ters so en­tic­ing you might want to bring a swim­suit.

a photo-re­al­is­tic world de­mands a photo-re­al­is­tic pop­u­lace, and here Favreau doesn’t dis­ap­point, fill­ing his jun­gle with wolves, tigers and bears (oh my) that look like they’ve stum­bled into the film from a Na­tional Geo­graphic doc­u­men­tary. un­til they open their mouths and talk, of course, a phe­nom­e­non which takes a fair bit of get­ting used to.

the cg cast will un­doubt­edly be the fo­cal point — it’s hard to take your eyes off them, frankly — which might be a bless­ing in dis­guise, for the sole hu­man per­for­mance, by new­comer neel sethi as Mowgli, is some­what hit-and-miss. Green-screen has de­feated ac­tors with far more ex­pe­ri­ence, so it per­haps should be no sur­prise that sethi strug­gles. He neatly cap­tures Mowgli’s sense of spirit and ad­ven­ture, but all too of­ten ap­pears stiff and laboured in his in­ter­ac­tions with the cg menagerie.

the orig­i­nal movie was a play­ful af­fair, all up­tempo tunes and jolly bon­homie. even the vul­tures sounded like the Bea­tles. But with­out re­course to the car­toon­ish, this ver­sion feels much darker and more adult. the threat of death, of tear­ing teeth and claws, is never far away, whether it’s in the guise of Idris elba’s slink­ing shere Khan, scar­lett Jo­hans­son’s se­duc­tive snake Kaa, or christo­pher Walken’s King Louie, who here is more Mafia Don than in­ter­fer­ing ape. His growled ver­sion of I Wanna Be Like You is, frankly, ter­ri­fy­ing.

It’s only about half­way through with the en­trance of Baloo, played by Bill Mur­ray as a sham­bling stoner, that the laughs start to re­ally flow. Favreau’s movie is more straight ad­ven­ture than mu­si­cal, but when Mur­ray starts let­ting rip with a fa­mil­iar tune, the film fi­nally swings. CHRIS HE­WITT

The Revenant: Salad Days.

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