The Jungle Book
- Neel Sethi as Mowgli
- Ben Kingsley as Bagheera
- Bill Murray as Baloo
- Idris Elba as Shere Khan
- Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha
- Giancarlo Esposito as Akela
- Scarlett Johansson as Kaa
- Christopher Walken as King Louie
When I was first informed that they were doing another version of The Jungle Book, combining live action with CGI, I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical over how successful it would turn out. I’m happy to report however that this interpretation from Disney is a triumph in almost every department, while adding some new touches to the adventure tale. Trust me, you’ll be blown away by this version of the beloved story.
Mowgli is an orphaned man cub, who is raised by a pack of wolves deep in the Indian jungle. He was brought there by the panther Bagheera, who watches out for the young and wild boy. While the wolves treat him as family, the leader of the pack Akela, disapproves of the boy using tricks considered human and wants him to be more like a wolf. Raksha, a female wolf acts as a strong mother figure for Mowgli and considers him her son. Yet as Mowgli grows older, the threats to him become more pronounced. The main one is the reappearance of the evil tiger Shere Khan, who strikes fear in the heart of all the other animals. Having been burned by humans in the past, Shere Khan has a deep hatred for man and seeing Mowgli vows to kill him. Fearing for the safety of young Mowgli, Akela has Bagheera take him back to a man village where it is hoped he will be safe from Shere Khan. Mowgli doesn’t want to leave, but sees that the danger posed to him is great. Yet getting to that village is no easy task as Mowgli and Bagheera become separated and he must fend for himself. Thankfully he encounters Baloo, a lazy but lovable bear who he quickly forms a bond with. Yet there is peril to be found in the jungle in many forms and with Shere Khan attempting to draw him out, it comes down to Mowgli to discover where his place in life is.
Jon Favreau directs with a sure hand, crafting The Jungle Book as an entertaining yet heartfelt production of massive scope. The CGI is quite simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring, worthy of every ounce of praise that has been aimed at it. Nary a frame of The Jungle Book is wasted due to the precision of the direction and the sheer majesty of everything going on. Everything in this Disney production looks so life-like, you could almost touch it and taste it with your senses in every shot. The jungle comes alive on the screen, resplendent with dangers and adventures for young Mowgli, as well as the audience too. In a different move, the darkness quota is significantly raised like never before. This gives The Jungle Book that something else that balances being a fun adventure with some genuine moments of danger. Moments that signify this shift are plentiful; from the large snake Kaa revealing the past of Mowgli while reeling him in to a large and menacing Orangutan-resembling ape King Louie, who wishes to harness the power of fire. And the biggest one is having Shere Khan as a ferocious beast who was scarred by man and looks frightening from the very moment he appears. I must say this new direction of making things darker really impressed me because it infuses the film with probably the darkest presentation of the source material yet doesn’t forget the atmosphere of fun that children and adults alike can enjoy. The coming of age elements are brought out with deeply riveting and soulful results as Mowgli attempts to find his place. An excellent music score highlights the thrilling adventures and soul of The Jungle Book. It was also a blast hearing some of the songs from the 1967 animated version, but done in other ways to distinguish it and not make the film a remake.
Newcomer Neel Sethi, as the only physical performer in the film, is naturally convincing as the curious and rebellious Mowgli. Considering that he would have been acting against nothing, he marvellously conveys a big load of emotions and reactions that never ring false for a second. The voice cast for the animals that inhabit the jungle are expertly employed and add their own inflections to their parts. I have always found Ben Kingsley as an actor to have something of a stately presence and this feeling of authority is reflected in his voicing of Bagheera, which emanates with wisdom and firmness. The amusing and always joyful Bill Murray is inspired as the honey-guzzling Baloo, who provides the comic moments of the film with a dash of classic Murray sarcasm. A real standout among the voices is Idris Elba as the evil Shere Khan. His booming, resonant voice utilized to maximum effect that makes the creature genuinely scary and filled with rage. Reverberating whenever he shows us, Elba’s voice is a clear winner. The assured and nurturing inflections from Lupita Nyong’o as the motherly Raksha pull out the emotional centre of the story and go a long way to creating moving results. Giancarlo Esposito has the required feelings of strength and leadership in voicing the head wolf of Akela, while the seductive voice of Scarlett Johansson colours the segment with her as Kaa the snake with a hypnotic impact. Christopher Walken’s distinctive voice is put to excellent use as the gigantic King Louie, with him sounding like something of a dodgy deal maker in the gangster mode and a menacing force. As strange as that combination sounds, it works wonderfully for this creation.
Imaginative, lushly directed and filled with something for everyone, The Jungle Book is a wonderful film in every way. Whether it’s the visuals, cast or the story, every department pulls tether to breathe fresh life into the well-known story and put a new stamp on it. I can’t think of a movie of late that has left me so thrilled and excited to talk about.