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