For all of his young life, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has been raised in the jungle, having been found by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), and adopted by a wolf pack. When the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) discovers there is a “man cub” living in the jungle, he vows not to rest until Mowgli is dead. Bagheera takes Mowgli on a journey to the man village to protect him, and Mowgli makes some new friends and enemies along the way.
Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book is the first of two Mowgli movies in the next 18 months – the second being Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book: Origins, coming next year – and both are based on Rudyard Kipling’s collection of moral stories that have inspired many, not least the Cub Scouts.
Neel Sethi leads the cast here, as the only human seen on screen, and he does well enough in the role when he is dealing with other characters, but struggles the odd time he finds himself alone on screen. Sethi makes Mowgli chatty and cheeky and, although the script imposes some modern American ways of speaking on the character, Mowgli is warm and someone the audience is happy to root for. The rest of the cast, who appear in voice only, do well with their roles too; Idris Elba makes Shere Khan intimidating and fearsome, Bill Murray’s Baloo is sweet and just a little eccentric, Ben Kingsley makes Bagheera a wise mentor, Lupita Nyong’o is warm and gentle as the wolf mother Raksha, Christopher Walken makes King Louie a little like the Godfather, but his idiosyncratic speech patterns suit the character and Scarlett Johansson makes the typically male snake Kaa charming, hypnotic and mesmerising. Gary Shandling also makes his final appearance as Ikki.
The script, adapted one more from Kipling’s books by Justin Marks, is markedly different from the last Jungle Book outing that Disney brought us, with the story being more faithful to the book. The story rockets along at a decent pace and the dialogue is mostly strong, although it seems changes were made to Baloo in order for the character to more suit Bill Murray’s way of speaking. As well as this, choices to include some of the songs from the animated 1967 Disney movie work both for and against the film; it seems in keeping with Baloo for the bear to sing “The Bare Necessities”, but King Louie’s looming gigantopithecus singing “I Wanna Be Like You” doesn’t quite fit with the awesome scale of the character.
Director Jon Favreau makes this new version of The Jungle Book both scary and fun, with morals for both kids and adults throughout. The film is a fantastic technical achievement, with the CG characters beautifully realised, and little clash between the real life actor and his animated cohorts. As usual, the 3D does little to enhance the story, and at times even makes the night time scenes murky and hard to distinguish.
In all, The Jungle Book is a modern reimagining of a classic tale. Technology allows the film to be visually stunning, and realise a version and real feeling version of the story that audiences have never seen before. Some odd story choices and murky 3D let the film down however, which may leave the nostalgic among us longing for the days of hand drawn, animated singing monkeys over a giant Christopher Walken belting out a jazz tune.