The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.
Every so often two films go into production with similar premises, with the film to make it into cinema’s first generally doing the better business regardless of quality. It happened in the late 90s with ‘Deep Impact’ and ‘Armageddon’ and it’s happened again now with two new adaptations of ‘The Jungle Book’ making their way to cinema screens. In this case Jon Favreau’s version has made it to screens ahead of Andy Serkis’ take on the classic tale (due 2018), and whilst Serkis version sounds eminently more promising, this version is really enjoyable as well. The story doesn’t tread too far from the original story but where it stands out is through the excellent special effects and the impeccable casting that breathes fresh life into revered characters.
We begin in the jungle as a young boy, Mowgli, is brought up by a pack of wolves, and the central conflict is established by the introduction of Shere Khan, a fearsome tiger who wishes Mowgli dead. The premise is the same as the famous Disney version but there’s a lot more menace here, partially due to the photo realistic animals and it’s genuinely scary at times, so be careful if you plan to take young children along. It’s an immersive experience and the effects are really good for the most part, save the CGI laden finale that goes a little overboard. Mowgli is played by Neel Sethi and he’s solid if unspectacular in a difficult role for a child actor performing primarily against a green screen. The approach to making the movie focuses more on CGI and green screen than motion capture, with the excellent voice cast required behind the scenes.
Ben Kingsley makes for an excellent Bagheera, whilst there are tantalising turns from Scarlett Johansson as the snake Kaa and Christopher Walken as a literally larger than life King Louie, but the standout is undoubtedly Bill Murray’s Baloo. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the character or Murray’s work that he’s perfectly cast, with his irreverent blend of humour, pathos and likability serving to create the film’s best character, both best friend and comic relief and he delivers some of the film’s biggest laughs. He’s also responsible for one of the two songs from the Disney film that makes the cut, with Christopher Walken providing a memorable ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ as the other addition. The fresh take on the songs are enjoyable although they do feel a little more out of place in a film that mainly stays away from the musical aspects of the Disney version. Idris Elba stars as the main antagonist Shere Khan and I felt he didn’t quite have the commanding voice to match the undoubted presence of the CGI tiger. Elba gives his all but I feel the character would have benefited from a stronger and more menacing voice actor to create a truly terrifying villain.
Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, blending strong voicework with terrific effects work to deliver a fresh and faithful take on Rudyard Kipling’s stories. Over to you Andy Serkis!
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken and Garry Shandling