The glut of remakes, prequels and sequels is seemingly not letting up at the moment but of particular focus lately have been updates of the family favourites that make up Disney’s classic back catalogue. With live action makeovers of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid on the way and other films like Mary Poppins set for sequels, it seems that Hollywood is trying desperately to re-live the glory days of the house of mouse. However after misfires like The Huntsman films, mixed offerings like Maleficent and the odd success (like this years remake of the cult Pete’s Dragon), the results range. So, what is the verdict on Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man, Chef) remake of the much-loved 1967 musical animation The Jungle Book, based on the timeless stories of Rudyard Kipling?
We are sure you know the story by now but for those unaware, this live-action remake follows young man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi), as he tries to mature as part of his wolf pack. However, when tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) returns to the jungle and demands the man cub be handed over to him, Mowgli’s friend/mentor Black Panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) looks to take Mowgli back to the man village and keep him safe. It is a tale that has been read and loved for years and thrived on TV, in books and on the big screen, that being said Kipling’s story is perhaps most commonly associated with Wolfgang Reitherman’s aforementioned classic animated musical, often favourably ranked as one of Disney’s best. And we are thrilled to say this remake just might become as classic.
Just like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Favreau’s film is filled with technical innovation but the CGI and motion-capture VFX support the story, characters and themes as opposed to it being the other way round. The Jungle Book is arguably the best remake to come along in years, as it beautifully groups aspects of the ’67 film with many moments more indebted to Kipling’s story itself. Favreau said he and the crew loved the original and wanted to do it justice but we have heard that before, however this time they have not only satisfied fans of the original but created an adaptation that works on its own four paws as well. The tone is sometimes dark but never anything less than thrilling, exciting, smile raising and occasionally tear-jerking. And it even comes complete with a far better ending than the, frankly, shallow finish to the original film.
The narrative is a reminder of just how great this story remains, and Justin Marks’ exemplary screenplay adds ides of social equality and racial tolerance without feeling preachy and in that sense the film is a wonderful companion to Disney’s other equally stunning 2016 hit Zootropolis. The live-action billing really is only down to Sethi’s lead, as the rest of Favreau’s film is rendered with state of the art blue and green screen technology but this in no way affects your enjoyment, in fact it enhances the stories reach. The visuals are simply stunning and among the finest of the year, this jungle is alive with wonder but it is the writing and acting that is the films true source of magic.
As the plot moves along at a perfect pace, we slowly see more of these beloved characters and can jump for joy as the casting proves to be spot on. The young Neel Sethi is a revelation as Mowgli and a human heart to this wild adventure. Kingsley makes for a wise and paternal figure as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo is absolutely everything you hoped it would be! Then there is Idris Elba, who is frighteningly sinister as Shere Khan and Christopher Walken’s take on King Louie avoids any kind of stereotyping and works a treat, as the big – and we mean BIG – ape is like a jungle gangster. Other great support is offered by the likes of Scarlett Johansson as hypnotic serpent Kaa and Lupita Nyong’o as Mowgli’s wolf mother Raksha- given a stronger character here than many of the other adaptations. The cast are simply a delight and even when the film inserts songs into the plot (despite this version not being a musical) it doesn’t disrupt any plot flow and simply feels like an organic dose of nostalgia (which works alongside the films modern ideas) for fans…you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Murray and Walken sing “Bare Necessities” and “Wanna Be Like You” respectively.
Overall, The Jungle Book is one of the year’s best movies. Jon Favreau has directed a passionate and exciting reboot that stands as his greatest cinematic achievement to date and his most enriching picture. The characters are brilliant, the effects groundbreaking, the themes compellingly timely and the story remains every bit as adventurous as it did back in 1894. This is a remake done completely right, as it rewards fans, while harnessing its own take on the story and even – honestly – improving on the missteps of Disney’s animated version. From the opening Disney castle ident intro (that sees John Debney’s brilliant score pay tribute to George Bruns) to the old school storybook credits, The Jungle Book is an absolute treat for viewers of all ages and is really this year’s Paddington (likewise a film many were uneasy about but which was utterly glorious). Forget about your worries and your strife, and believe the hype, The Jungle Book rocks…”yeah man”.
Special Features: Audio Commentary, featurettes
THE JUNGLE BOOK / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JON FAVREAU / SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN MARKS / STARRING: NEEL SETHI, BILL MURRAY, BEN KINGSLEY, IDRIS ELBA, CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, LUPITA NYONG’O, SCARLETT JOHANSSON / RELEASE DATE: 22ND AUGUST
Expected Rating: 7/10