Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family
The Jungle Book is a beautiful, thrilling adaptation of its classic 1967 animated predecessor.
The story follows a young human boy named Mowgli (portrayed by Neel Sethi) who has been raised by a pack of wolves. Mowgli’s wolf pack see him as one of their own, but as he grows older their differences in regard to physical capabilities becomes more evident. Mowgli is torn between maintaining the traditional techniques learnt from his upbringing with the wolves and using his natural gifts as a human. This conflict is a constant theme throughout the film as the animals of the jungle associate his ‘tricks’ with the humans who endanger them.
Antagonist Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) is a tiger, and is the most feared animal in the jungle. He despises humans due to the past injuries they have caused him, seeing them as the primary threat to his dominance over the jungle. Once learning of Mowgli’s existence he announces his intention to kill him. Mowgli’s old friend and mentor, a wise black panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), offers to return Mowgli to the human village in an attempt to save him from his impending doom. Along the way Mowgli meets Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), a comical, carefree bear who is fascinated with Mowgli’s human ‘tricks’. Throughout the film Bagheera and Baloo rescue Mowgli from a number of situations and help teach him how to survive in the jungle.
The casting in The Jungle Book is exceptional. Every voice actor is both fitting and believable in correlation with the CGI animal characters. Sethi’s performance as Mowgli may not be perfect, but it is enthusiastic and well executed for someone of his age. He gives an accurate portrayal of the same character from the 1967 animated film. A standout performance in this film is Christopher Walken’s cameo as King Louie, a giant ape who rules over the smaller primapes of the jungle. Walken gives King Louie a gangster like persona, portraying him as more of a mob boss than a king of the jungle. The highlight of Walken’s cameo is when he sings a rendition of the classic song I Wan’na Be Like You from the 1957 animated version of the film.
Visually, The Jungle Book is stunning. The clarity and colours of the jungle, realism of the animals and panning shots of the vast landscapes are spectacular. The action and chase scenes were also extremely compelling. I found myself jumping out of my seat during scenes where the stealthy Shere Khan would unexpectedly attack.
A standout scene that highlights the fantastic visual effects of this film is the scene involving Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Kaa is a python with the ability to hypnotise its prey. Whilst hypnotising Mowgli into a trance, Kaa reveals parts of Mowgli’s origins and introduces him to the idea of ‘The Red flower’ (man-made fire), exposing Shere Khan’s greatest weakness. The visual transition into Mowgli’s past is illustrated from Mowglii’s point of view, looking directly into Kaa’s eyes. Kaa’s eyes then subtly transform into a cave inhabited by a father and son creating fire, and who are soon to encounter Shere Khan. Whilst Kaa explains the power of ‘The Red Flower’ to Mowgli, the visuals of fire are mesmerising. This scene is reminiscent of a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in which the story of The Three Brothers is told with a similar transition and style of live action shots to animated CGI.
The sound composition of The Jungle Book correlates well with the film’s visuals. This is exemplified in the opening scene as Mowgli runs away from an unknown animal hiding in the greenery of the jungle. The music adds suspense but does not overpower the scene, and is aided by the rustling of leaves and the growling of the unknown animal.
The Jungle Book also pays homage to the musical aspects of the 1967 film. Throughout the film and credits, classic songs such as The Bare Necessities, I Wan’na Be Like You and Trust in Me are revisited. They are presented in shorter, less extravagant way than in the animated equivalent, but add a nostalgic touch to the musical roots of the film without seeming out of place.
Whilst in 1967 this story was meant for young children, The Jungle Book in 2016 is aimed at a slightly older audience. Rather than being an animated, comical musical, this film has realistic CGI animals ferociously attacking each other. The film also creates far more emotional attachment to Mowgli’s wolf pack and focuses far more on his upbringing. There are also a number of plot points that are explored quite differently, adding fresh elements to the story for those who grew up watched the animated version of the film. The story is not very complicated and whilst this version of the film explores some darker themes, it is still a very clear, straightforward and often predictable story.
The Jungle Book does justice to its animated predecessor. Director Jon Favreau has stuck to the proven winning formula for expressing this story whilst adding his own twists throughout the film. The star-studded cast in this film pays off excellently. The visuals and sound in create an amazing setting and atmosphere within the jungle. The story is very clear and well told. This is a great family film that will likely be exciting and enthralling for older children and nostalgic and enjoyable for adults.