THE JUNGLE BOOK (USA/PG/115mins)
Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony, Max Favreau.
THE PLOT:
Having been rescued by the black panther Bagheera (Kingsley) following the death of his father, young Mowgli (newcomer Sethi) grows up in the Indian jungle as one of the pack. One of the wolf pack, that is, his life one long lesson in speed, and survival, and messing about with incredibly cuddly wolf cubs. When he’s spotted by the self-appointed king of the jungle, Shere Khan (Elba), the pressure is on to get this man-cub back to his own species. Not that Mowgli is all that keen to go, with the jungle throwing up plenty of obstacles in his way – such as the seductive snake Kaa (the seductive Johansson), the ominous King Louie (Walken) and the hapless, honey-loving Baloo (Murray)…
THE VERDICT: More ‘Night Of The Hunter’ than ‘George Of The Jungle’, Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of their classic animation catalogue is a strange beast. Verging on strained.
There’s no doubting the quality of the work, and of the cast and crew, and the beautiful National Geographic porn on display, but there’s a strong smell of Tim Burton’s diabolical ‘Alice In Wonderland’ about Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s late 19th century Indian adventure classic. Not that ‘The Jungle Book’ is a stinker – far from it. It’s just that the film Favreau has delivered takes itself very, very seriously indeed. Peter Jackson serious.
Like ‘Life of Pi’ gone wild, the CGI goes all the way up to 11 here, as our little tyke goes into battle with Idris Elba’s relentless killer Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson’s seductive Kaa and Christopher Walken’s towering, glowering King Louie.
The last characterisation is a case in point when it comes to that dark side favoured by Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks (the man who gave us Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li, no less). When Mowgli is kidnapped by those rascal monkeys, and scaled precariously, Planet Of The Apes style, up a sheer cliff face to their leader’s derelict temple, Louis Prima ain’t waiting there in the shadows. What we get, as this giant, sinister orangutan lurches into the light, is far more Colonel Kurtz than King Louie.
Of course, kids like to be scared, but Favreau presses that Burton button a little too much here, delivering the kind of dark rumblings that hip middle-aged filmmakers like to view as subversive and daring. Aiming for Max von Sydow playing chess with death though, they invariably land on Zach Snyder running on grandiose gothic empty.
The only shining light is Bill Murray as Baloo, delivering the handful of truly inspired comic lines here, but even he buckles under the weightiness here.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Paul Byrne

The Jungle Book
Review by Paul Byrne
2.0Takes itself seriously
  • filmbuff2011

    Disney’s much-loved 1967 cartoon version of The Jungle Book gets a brand-new makeover from the Mouse House. The change here is that it’s live action with CGI animals rather than 2D animation. Can it stand shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor?

    Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a young orphan boy who lives in the Indian jungle. He’s watched over with a careful eye by black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who first found him when his father was killed by the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Raised by wolves, Mowgli is regarded as a boy cub and an equal among the wolves. The return of Shere Khan causes problems, as he exerts his dominance over the wolves. He believes that Mowgli will grow to be a man who will threaten the safety of all animals in the jungle, possibly through the ‘red flower’ (i.e. fire). Under pressure, Bagheera escorts Mowgli back to his home among humans. As they trek through the jungle, they become separated. Mowgli goes on his own adventure as he encounters seductive snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the manipulative gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken) and a new friend in the form of Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). Mowgli will have to face up to Shere Khan if he is to become a man in time…

    Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling and adapted here by Justin Marks, this new version of The Jungle Book fully justifies its existence. Actor / director Jon Favreau makes his mark here with this traditional Disney take on the story. However, he also makes it a thrilling adventure story contained within a fabulously-designed world. Created entirely on the backlot (‘filmed in downtown Los Angeles’ states the end credits, which are worth staying for), Favreau and his production designer Christopher Glass and visual effects team have crafted a make-believe world that you can almost reach out and touch (especially in 3D). There’s no sense of fakery though – the blend of live action and visual effects is truly seamless and immersive.

    Films with talking animals can be odd to watch at times, but not The Jungle Book. It transcends that to become something else. Favreau has assembled an excellent voice cast to give his animated animals personality and depth, which make them credible and commanding. The voice casting is spot-on, as if Favreau knew exactly who he had in mind to voice each character. Kinglsey brings a sense of wiseness and majesty to Bagheera, Elba a dark, tightly coiled menace as Shere Khan and Murray ideally cast as the most laid-back bear you can imagine. Even the casting of Walken works brilliantly, as he gets to do a song and dance number which is a highlight (this isn’t strictly a musical, as there’s only two songs used). As the only real onscreen human in the cast, Sethi brings a playful sense of humour to Mowgli as well as signs of growing maturity.

    There is another adaptation of The Jungle Book in the works, a motion-capture version directed by the master of mo-cap himself, Andy Serkis. However, that’s not due out until 2018. The space between that film and this new Disney version is probably a good thing. It will allow both films to stand on their own without overlapping or drawing too many comparisons. Disney’s new version is undoubtedly a triumph of imagination, humour and heart. The story settles down within a few minutes, drawing you into Kipling’s magical world and holds onto you right through to its action-packed finale. There’s also a sense of darkness which makes it far more than just a family film – there are even jump-out-of-your-seat moments which you won’t see coming. Captivating, thrilling, immensely enjoyable and directed with respect for the source material, The Jungle Book is a King Louie-sized knock-out. ****