The Jungle Book is a reboot of the popular 1967 cartoon of the same name and tells the same basic story but this time with motion capture animals and a live action Mowgli. Mowgli we find out was taken as a baby from his deceased father and brought up in the wild among the wolves. Whilst struggling to find his place in the pack amidst a drought where there is a ‘water truce’ between all animals, tiger Shere Khan vows to kill the man-cub once the rain starts falling and the truce is up, or have the rest of the wolf pack killed. Panther and closest thing Mowgli has to a father ‘Bagheera’ convinces Mowgli to go back to the humans and to safety so he and the other animals can live on without threat.
The most stunning thing about this film is how it looks, aesthetically it is up there with the best and most realistic CGI there has ever been in film. Every single shot has meticulous detail and it is quite astounding given the variety in the locations there were. There are scenes that range from the usual exotic colourful jungle settings with big bright flowers, to the waterlogged ravaged planes affected by the torrential downpour, to the magnificent yet deserted crumbling temple where King Louie resides. Combine these wonderful settings with the fantastic motion capture that was used for the talking animals and what you are left with is a visual orgasm of treats.
The star studded voice cast of Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley completely bring to life each of their own characters considering, you know, they’re talking animals. Bill Murray voices Baloo the bear and is easily the most likable character. He’s marginally conniving but cheeky and humorous too, bringing some emotion to his time with Mowgli that makes you believe there is a friendship blossoming. I don’t think I’d be alone in wanting to see a spin off of the two and going on all sorts of buddy adventures. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan was what you wanted from a villain, menacing, brutal and whose presence is often more of a threat than the actions itself. King Louie had the most impressive gravitas and even though Christopher Walken’s voice is terribly distinctive it doesn’t take long before you forget it’s him and just go along with his well executed scenes. Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa was as verbally seductive as you would expect but at the same time was pretty pointless in relation to the plot and wouldn’t have been missed if cut out, and lastly Ben Kingsley brought the sage like wisdom to Mowgli that we have come to expect from the seasoned actor. As for Mowgli, who was portrayed by Neel Sethi, considering it was his first feature length acting role and he used nothing but green screen he did a pretty good job. Sethi’s parkour like moves around the jungle were Tarzanesque and completely sells the familiarity with his surroundings as if he’s been brought up there. Something even the most experienced of actors struggle with is interacting with motion capture and for the most part you would forget that is exactly what Sethi was doing. There were a few moments when it looks like Sethi doesn’t know where he should be looking towards but these are infrequent and rarely noticeable. Based on his performance here the kid has a bright future.
One of the more surprising elements to the film is the dark tone that director Jon Favreau decided to go with. In an era where so many films post Nolan’s Batman seems to opt to have a ‘gritty’ feel to it Favreau tries to embrace it too and mesh it into this children’s tale. For every chirpy little montage of Mowgli having fun there are scenes to show his lonesome journey. Even though the plot is to get Mowgli from point A to point B there are times where you see him as a lonely wanderer who isn’t entirely sure why he has to do what it is he is doing. Then there are the action scenes, especially with Shere Khan, that don’t hold back and in all honesty I’ll be surprised if there aren’t children that don’t end up having nightmares that very night. However it is not all doom and gloom with some nostalgia kicking in for anyone who enjoys the songs of old are treated to a couple of renditions of ‘I Want To Be Like You’ and ‘King Of The Jungle’. The problem is they are treated more as small departures away from the story than having real significance as in the 1967 version. The mishandling of this aspect of the story is consistent with the lack of emotional impact when Mowgli goes back for his final showdown. The majority of the film has been about his journey away but there is actually little time spent figuring out his identity and later when he is told a certain bit of information he immediately goes back to have his boss battle with Shere Khan, the whole process just didn’t hit home in the way it should.
This adaptation of The Jungle Book does the original complete justice as a spectacle and shouldn’t be missed. Visually stunning with an all-star cast it is a film that for the most part is masterfully made, there are no surprises from the plot and even though there is some shaky story telling it does not take away from the overall experience that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.