The Jungle Book

It’s really a Bare Necessity that you see it!

For reasons somewhat unknown and potentially puzzling for many fans, Disney has decided to make a series of live-action versions of their animated classics. Apparently there are even 15 currently being planned. If they are all even half as good as this one then it’s not something to worry over. The Jungle Book (2016) is a marvelously wonderful adaptation that is both true to the original 1968 film yet with enough of its own nuances for a fresh-feel.

Mowgli was only a baby when he was found alone in the jungle by Bagheera the black panther (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera took Mowgli to the group of animals in the jungle who would best be able to care for him and protect him – the wolf pack. Raised by surrogate mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and bought up alongside their wolf cubs Mowgli learns the ways of the wolves, but as he is getting older Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) progress is starting to lag behind his wolf siblings. One day, during the dry season, all the animals of the jungle are gathered to drink what remains of The Water Truce when Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) makes a reappearance after years away. Shere Khan smells Mowgli’s scent and warns the wolfpack to get rid of him or face the consequences. Bagheera offers to escort Mowgli back to the land of the man but the pair get separated on the journey. A close encounter with an enormous Indian python called Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) leads to Mowgli meeting Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). A true friendship begins to form between them but how long can it last with Shere Khan still desperate to hunt and kill Mowgli?

There are three key things that have been perfected to make this film as good as it is. Hopefully one of the things you noticed as you read the above plot summary is the cast. Firstly, how good is that cast!?! Look at the incredible group of actors that were brought together. Then look individually at each actor and the character they play. It’s not often you get to say that every casting choice is perfect within a movie and it’s something that you can say applies to this film. Kingsley provides the necessary paternal warmth hidden under layers of no-nonsense concern. Nyong’o as Raksha is a wolf fiercely protective and not afraid to speak out when it’s needed. Elba is fantastic, a properly scary villain, who growls around the land. Johansson’s Kaa is suitably seductive and hypnotic. But the award for most outstanding vocal contribution has to go to Bill Murray providing a performance that is un-bear-ably endearing and amusing in equal measure. How young newcomer Neel Sethi manages to hold his own is an incredible feat which he appears to do with ease. Let alone the fact he spends the film acting alongside CGI animals…

Leading to the second area in which this film excels – the visuals. I’m on the fence about 3D usually. After seeing too many films which claim 3d status yet do little to warrant it I tend not to be overly excited when having to choose between 2d and 3d showings.The Jungle Book is the first film in an age where I’ve been so glad I booked that 3d ticket. The depth of the frame, the landscape, the animals fur, the movement of the water and the curse of the red flower. All of these aspects are superbly enhanced by the 3d. Whilst aware of the cost it can add to a cinema visit I would firmly recommend seeing this film in 3d to access the added textures and wondrous depths it provides. The animals themselves are beautiful and almost life-like in how they look and move.I now desperately want to cuddle a baby wolf and sit upon a giant bears stomach as we float through the river.

Thirdly there’s the direction.Director Jon Favreau ensure first and foremost that this is a children’s movie whilst avoiding any pandering or talking down to the children. The film has enough darkness to give it bite – mildly frightening as opposed to truly scary. There’s even a lesson or two to be learned along the way. Unlike the original animation this film is not a musical but two of the classic songs are included – ‘The Bare Necessities’ is sung by Mowgli and Baloo during the aforementioned river floating sequences and Christopher Walken talk-sings his way through ‘Wanna Be Like You’ in such a wonderfully charming yet ultimately threatening manner – that feel like a natural fit as opposed to being shoe-horned in.

This may just be the most enchanting film of the year so far. It’s a marvellous visual spectacle told with wit and warmth. A treat for the eyes, ears and heart.

4 stars