Disney has been doing their best to recreate some of their most popular films in live action and with The Jungle Book, it looks like alongside last years super great Cinderella, that their gamble is paying off.
The Jungle Book is a slick, tense, funny, warm and nostalgic film that is lovingly faithful to the original animated classic whilst maintaining its own fresh charm.
I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the original Disney animated version of this Rudyard Kipling tale, I’ve seen the songs and clips of course over the years but I never managed to catch it. Yet I think that this version may indeed be better, after all, the charm of the original lies in its wonderful songs and here, they’re recreated, if perhaps in a less musical way.
It’s the everything else, the CGI, the voice-cast, the music and the action that make it work, when the songs come in, it may seem a little odd for a film that’s a bit more straight-laced, but it works.
Bill Murray is instantly loveable as Baloo and gives the film a much-needed perk up when he arrives. There are a few moments that flag, the beginning doesn’t spark as well and I find any scene with the wolves to be a bit cliche and flat, however, the film just got better and better.
Ben Kingly as Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha and Giancarlo Esposito as Akela all do good work but the real clever casting comes in the form of Scarlett Johansson as a terrifying Kaa, Christopher Walken as an imposing and even more terrifying King Louie and Idris Elba as a positively petrifying Shere Khan.
They’re all scary in their own ways, upping the ante from their animated counterparts. Kaa, in her one scene, hypnotises Mowgli, the hissing voice of Johansson both soothing and shiver-inducing.
King Louie captures the terror of being chased by something massive, mirroring Jack Torrance with his snarling, wall smashing intent and they’re more than a few good jump scares, the best of which come from a large orangutan.
Best of all, and rightly so, is Shere Khan, a scarred, murderous tiger out to kill Mowgli out of his own prejudice. He’s scarred and murderous, ferociously killing, hunting or maiming to get what he wants. Idris Elba is the perfect voice for the snarling beast and helps to make Khan the best villain of the year so far.
Holding them all together is the terrific Neel Sethi, the sole human performer amongst an ocean of CGI. His remarkable performance manages to be endearing and layered whilst reacting to the animals and within seconds of the film beginning you forget the level of technical trickery going on here.
This a film that deserves awards for its technical achievement, which isn’t just a manufacturer of creatures but also in creating animals you care about, and it’s a testament to the command of the director (Jon Favreau) and years of experience from Disney that make this film a rousing success.
The beginning and the opening titles look back to the animated style of the era in which the original was made and with this nostalgic lens I am hooked. Though I like the older Disney films enough, it’s their connection to one of my favourite places, Disneyland, that tie it to the heart of my imagination.
The music that occurs after the opening titles and delicate renditions of The Bare Necessities give this film a warm glow that is inescapable and if Disney can imbue their next live action remakes with as much heart as this The Jungle Book, then by all means, go on.