I suspect that much of the audience that went to watch The Jungle Book were ones who had seen the 1967 Disney production, and hold that one dear. Director Jon Favreau thus had a job similar to that of JJ Abram’s when he made Star Wars Episode VII; to take viewers along a familiar story line, re introducing well-loved favourites with an intensity that feels new.
Favreau does this with a sweeping, sumptuous CGI jungle with plenty for the eyes to devour, animals that are beautifully rendered and a stellar cast to bring all this to life.
Ben Kingsley is the uptight but lovable Bagheera, and Lupita Nyong’o as the protective Wolf Mother Raksha is lovely. Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa is suitably creepy, while Idris Elba is brutally single minded as the man-hating Shere Khan. Neel Sethi certainly looks the part as the mop haired energetic Mowgli brought to life – and with his dynamic relationship with Bill Murray’s laid back Baloo – is the backbone of the movie.
While Mowgli navigates the jungle, coming upon friends and foes, using his instincts matched with his intellect to help various animals, the movie does come off a tad disjointed as Mowgli never stays long enough with one set to build up a real dynamic relationship with any of them. Until Baloo, that is. Baloo is delightfully ambiguous when it comes to morals, and he and Mowgli are a pair of imps when Bagheera discovers them. As funny as the movie can get, it also justly shows how dangerous the jungle is for a young man cub when Shere Khan is on the loose. The inevitable showdown with the tiger does not disappoint.
The problem with pacing, however, cannot be denied as some scenes move too slowly and called for editing. There was an off balance in King Louie’s scene when he started singing – always a little strange in a movie that is not a musical. Baloo and Mowgli floating downstream whilst humming The Bear Necessities felt organic, but King Louie’s gargantuan mass was tempered somewhat by the comical singing and the tone did not match.
Nevertheless, The Jungle Book is a feast for the senses, bringing back the magic that those who love Rudyard Kipling’s classic will appreciate. It might not supplant the love of the old Disney movie, but it will certainly enhance it and a new generation will be introduced to the mystic story of the man cub growing up in the wild. This also bodes well for Disney’s ongoing quest to turn animated classics into live remakes, and it is exciting to think of what would come next.