The story is mostly unchanged from the original (film, not book) with a few twists thrown in. Man-cub Mowgli (Sethi) is raised by wolves under the watchful eye of panther Bagheera (Kingsley) and lives a happy existence until the re-emergence of the tiger Shere Khan (Elba) forces him to seek safety in the nearby human village. Nothing, of course, is ever so simple and along his journey Mowgli will cross paths with Kaa the Snake (Johansson), Baloo the bear (Murray), and King Louie the orangutan, amongst others.
Favreau starts out a little shaky, literally, as the 3D in the first scene of Mowgli running though the jungle can be quite disorienting, but once the action calms down and the audience has time to get used to the slightly shiny CGI animals that surround the real-life Sethi, he manages to deliver a funny, touching, and exhilarating adventure.
Some of those CGI animals fare better than others. Kingsley’s Bagheera is a perfect match for his voice, protective yet stern, as is Elba’s Shere Khan at the other end of the scale, every word dripping with menace. Bill Murray’s personality shines through in his rendition, even if his CGI bear doesn’t quite convey the same amount of character as the older animated version.
Sethi does well in amongst all this CGI, avoiding becoming annoying and handling the darker, more emotional scenes well.
Johansson’s Kaa is, for some reason, freakin’ huge, but her role is little more than a cameo. Walken’s King Louie is similarly massive, dwarfing all other characters, but his part, and personality, are more than match his stature. Walken also gets to revisit Louie’s famous song and even though not all the original music makes it, the filmmakers find the time to squeeze some of them into the final credits.
A lot of the humour comes from smaller animals around the periphery including the late Garry Shandling’s Rain Man-esque Porcupine, a bevy of cute wolf cubs, and a honey-basted pig (not like that!) that help keep proceedings light.
Like Kaa and Louie, elements of the plot, including the climax and the relationships between some of the characters, have also been ‘amped-up’, but these changes keep the story fresh for those with fond memories of the original and will surely help a new generation to treasure these characters as well.
THE JUNGLE BOOK / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JON FAVREAU / SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN MARKS / STARRING: NEEL SETHI, BEN KINGSLEY, IDRIS ELBA, LUPITA NYONG’O, BILL MURRAY, GIANCARLO ESPOSITO, CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, SCARLETT JOHANSSON / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 15TH
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10