Neel Sethi and Bill Murray star in The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book (4/5)

MOWGLI and his jungle pals pounce, slither and swing into life in this delightful, heart-warming modernisation of the Disney cartoon classic that has already been enthralling children for generations and is set to do it all over again.

It’s almost unbelievable to think that the original film, based on the book by Rudyard Kipling, was made nearly 50 years ago in 1967. As a child of the 80s it was already nearly 20 years old even by the time I came to watch and love it. There’s just something so charming and timeless about it, the big American voices and wonderful singing talents of guys like Phil Harris and Louis Prima, the original Baloo and King Louie, and the refined, mellifluous English tones of Sebastian Cabot and George Sanders, the original Bagheera and Shere Khan.

Oddly, despite the years between the two films, it almost feels like this remake has come too soon. But with the leaps  made in computer animation in recent years (Gravity being a notable milestone in showing us just how realistic it now all looks) director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book has actually arrived at the perfect time. In fact it has led the way in what looks looks to be a slew of “live-action” re-makes. Another classic, The BFG, is already coming to cinema screens soon and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is also on its way. The technology is there and now so too is the money.

But back to the jungle, where we find two stars of the show. First are the animals, who look simply stunning. In a movie with a running time of 1h 46mins I only spotted one or two occasions when the movement of one of the multitude of beauteous beasts looked wrong, which is one hell of a feat given there’s at least one on-screen for nearly all of it. The second star is Mowgli himself, Neel Sethi, whose good nature and natural ease is a pleasure to watch. Given none of the animals he’s acting with are real, or for that matter most of the scenery, shows what a true talent he is. Born in New York, this Indian-American child actor has become an overnight sensation and looks every inch the personification of the cartoon character in his red pants and long, straight hair.

But not everything is the same as it was a half century ago. There’s less song-and-dance and more of a focus on drama and a message of togetherness this time around. Justin Marks’ screenplay also makes a giganterificous villain of King Louie. The king of the apes is voiced by Christopher Walken – which has to be seen to be believed – and boasts his hard and genuinely chilling crazy-eyed stare. His enormous size and cunning is far more terrifying even than Shere Khan’s striped wrath, voiced by a gravelly and growling Idris Elba.

The comedy and heart is provided by one of Hollywood’s finest in Bill Murray, as Baloo the bear. Ben Kinglsey voices the paternal Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o is Mowlgi’s wolf mother Raksha – the wolves and their community play a much bigger part in this remake – and Scarlet Johansson puts her tongue to the test as titanic python Kaa.

This revitalisation could have done more to stand apart from the original material, but that doesn’t matter much. It gives us more of what we love with one eye on the past and another on the cutting edge.

Final word: A roaring success that brings the jungle to life in a way you never thought possible.

If you liked The Jungle Book, you should also watch:

  • The Jungle Book (1967)
  • We Bought A Zoo

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