Most people will have seen or at least know of Disney’s original version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book, an animated musical comedy made back in 1967 (nearly 50 years ago!). It remains a classic, however this new ‘live-action (with CGI)’ version is a little more serious and definitely not a comedy, but it’s quite a timely, updated version of this story now in 2016.
This version of The Jungle Book again takes parts and elements from Rudyard Kipling’s entire book, without telling the entire story page for page. It’s a wonderful tale – the story of a young boy orphaned in the Indian jungle who’s then raised by a wolf pack and his subsequent adventures with many of the other jungle creatures. Watching this new version, I found myself seeing it through the eyes of the young boy who watched that Disney animated film all those years ago. All the well-known characters are there: Mowgli the Man-Cub, Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Panther, King Louie the Orang-utan, Shere Khan the Tiger, and Kaa the Python – with all of the animals created by jaw-dropping modern CGI. The voice cast is nothing short of stellar, with Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Christopher Walken (King Louie) and Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) all a part of this movie. Also of note is that this was recently-late comedian Garry Shandling’s last movie role, with a cameo as Ikki the Porcupine. The only human with a major role in this film is newcomer Neel Sethi in the role of Mowgli, and he does the character justice with his portrayal.
Disney entrusted this new version to Iron Man director Jon Favreau, and their faith has not been misplaced. Favreau has created a wonderful film – his direction is excellent and he gets great performances out of Neel Sethi and his suite of voice actors. It’s beautifully shot, and the CGI is near flawless (particularly Kaa the Python – she looked very real. And despite this movie not being a musical nor a comedy, Favreau has skilfully managed to keep a few of the more famous songs from the 1967 movie in his 2016 version, with ‘The Bare Necessities’, ‘Trust In Me’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ still included.
However, despite this film being so well made, having a good story and having great acting performances, it’s not up there with the best films of the year to date. Favreau has made a great children’s film, obviously with Disney’s full backing – a movie that will appeal to kids and their parents (whether they have nostalgia for the original Disney film, as I did, or not). But I find more often than not that the mark of a great film is when you really connect with the actors/characters on the screen – in The Jungle Book, with most of the characters being CGI, I felt I simply was unable to connect with the characters as I wanted to. And King Louie, although spectacular in CGI, was far too massive to be realistic, especially when compared to the other characters on screen at the same time, which didn’t help with trying to connect with the characters – this made these scenes with King Louie seem very cartoonish compared to the rest of the film.
A great children’s movie that all families should go and see while it’s still in the cinema. Totally worth your dollars!
Reviewed by David Emms