There isn’t a missed beat in terms of how lush Jon Favreau’s adaptation of the 1967 animated classic looks, and the Iron Man director also has a keen understanding of the source material giving iconic characters depth.
Raised by a family of wolves, man-cub Mowgli (American newcomer Neel Sethi) is treated as if he is one of the animals in the jungle home he has known for as long as he can remember. He is one of the pack, and his ‘mother’ is a caring wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) who will do everything she can to protect Mowgli.
The young boy is also being taught the ways of the wild by wise panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley), and when a truce is called after a drought even more animals are introduced to their unique neighbour. Although the peace holds firm, the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) promises to kill Mowgli when the rules of the jungle allow it.
Fearing the worst, Bagheera ushers his reluctant young charge away, telling him to head to the human village. Shere Khan won’t give up so easily however, and it will take some unlikely friends to prevent tragedy from striking.
We all know the story, or at least some form of it. The Rudyard Kipling book, on which the musical version from the 60’s was based, is itself about to get another retelling in a rival version of the story. This Disney version is well known to us, and the likes of King Louie, Kaa and Baloo all appear once the chase is on.
Using a combination of live-action and flawless computer effects, the animals and human characters all interact seamlessly. As well as highlighting how well Favreau directs the action, this also has to be to the credit of the young actor playing Mowgli. On screen it looks like a dream role to play, but you can just imagine how tough it would have been to perform opposite little more than a tennis ball on a stick against a green screen.
You feel a real connection between the actor and the creatures around him.
The story itself is as feral as Mowgli, telling a primeval tale of survival against the odds. The humour and heart from the previous version is here in full effect, even if some of the songs are missing.
The reworked versions of some of the classics are fun too, but they are used sparingly which might annoy purists. Scarlett Johansson only gets one scene as the hypnotic Kaa and her best moment is saved for the credits.
Luckily two heavyweights in the shape of Bill Murray and Christopher Walken get to strut their stuff as Baloo the bear and King Louie the… Gigantopithecus? Basically a giant ape, that once ruled the part of the world in which Kipling set his story.
The voice actors are entirely themselves throughout. It would have been a mistake to have them try and mimic the audio we are familiar with, but some might find the big names distracting.
The welcome flipside to this is the shorthand we get from Murray’s laid-back cool and Walken’s undeniable menace. Idris Elba also gets to do much more here than he did in the other recent Disney movie Zootropolis.
By going back to the well with this favourite, the team behind The Jungle Book have ended up delivering a fresh, entertaining and unmistakably heart-warming film which is set to become a classic in its own right.