The Jungle Book
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
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