With breathtaking CGI, lots of action and a story we all know and love, The Jungle Book had me hooked from the very first scene – and is the best excuse ever for a family trip to the cinema!
Anyone who sits across from me on the tube will know just how much I love Rudyard Kipling’s stories, my nose inside that well-thumbed copy of The Jungle Book on almost every journey. No matter how many times I read it, I’m entranced by the rich detail, how he describes even the smallest twitch of Bagheera’s tail, how Akela flexes his paws, Kaa’s heft and calculating demeanour.
Although the 1967 Disney classic is one of my all-time favourite films, I have long looked forward to seeing that same detail brought to life on film. Director Jon Favreau’s interpretation didn’t disappoint! His team’s attention to detail is extraordinary, and the superb CGI leaves you feeling that the animals are real, living, breathing beings. So much so, in fact, that there were countless moments where I caught myself wondering how on earth they had trained the animals!
“But how did they get them to all stand together at Peace Rock without attacking each other?”, I wondered aloud after the film. Shortly followed by a face-palm as I recalled that the only non-CGI creature in the film was Mowgli.
While he’s kept the visuals are very true to the book, Favreau took a few liberties with the story – necessarily so! The original story The Jungle Book is quite dark and brutal, a frighteningly real perspective of not just the Law of the Jungle, but also exploring the darker side of how people are treated when they don’t look or act like they belong. Creating a family film, he will have had to rein back quite a bit on the more graphic scenes from the book – no child wants to go home with such a gruesome picture in their head of Shere Khan’s fate! Staying true to the 1967 classic wouldn’t have been an option either – that bouncy musical humour we all love so much would have jarred with the realism and felt like an insane jungle version of Look Who’s Talking Too… thank you, Mr Favreau for not taking that route!
Favreau’s story ends up somewhere in between, and doesn’t quite hook the audience emotionally, but it still works well.
As for the talent, wow – The Jungle Book was superbly cast. I wasn’t a fan of Scarlett Johannsen as Kaa, but Ben Kingsley was born to play Bagheera, Bill Murray’s Baloo was weirdly believable, and Garry Shandling’s porcupine was hilarious. Who knew he would make such a great porcupine?! As Mowgli’s mother wolf, Raksha, Lupita Nyong’o is incredible, and some genuine emotion comes through even though it’s hard for we mere humans to read her face!
Neel Sethi (Mowgli) is a little superstar – his energy and smile are infectious, and you will love watching him on screen.
Idris Elba’s deep voice and gravitas was enough to make millions of women fall in love with Stringer Bell (The Wire), and it’s no different with him voicing Shere Khan. Mums – just a warning that realising you sort of fancy a tiger is an awkward moment indeed.
As big an Idris Elba fan as I am, he’s not my favourite in this film – actually, I’ve got to take my hat off to Favreau’s team for casting Christopher Walken as King Louie. He will give you serious goosebumps with his measured, intense and menacing take on the character, reminiscent of Vincenzo Coccotti in Tarantino’s True Romance.
All in all, The Jungle Book is a fantastic film, and definitely one worth seeing on the big screen. In my view, although it’s rated PG, it’s much too realistic and frightening for younger children – personally I’d wait until they’re 8 or 9!