Some decisions just make sense, and it is impossible to go through the cast list of The Jungle Book without thinking, ‘damn, that makes sense.’ From Bill Murray as Baloo to Christopher Walken as King Louie it just works. The question is can Jon Favreau’s attempt at a ‘live-action’ (in reality the only live-action element is Neel Sethi as Mowgli) Disney classic live up to such an illustrious cast?
Yes, yes it can. This film could not have happened even five years ago. From the CGI animals to the CGI jungle this thing is stunning. There are times when these computer-created trees look more life like than any tree I’ve ever climbed. While the simple details of the animals are exquisite, a drop of rain slipping through fur or Mowgli’s fingers clutching a handful of hair. This film looks amazing.
However, there is always a worry about focusing on that kind of thing. Are you so interested in the scenery because the story is weak? Of course not, it’s The Jungle Book, and that is a classic for a reason. The story follows closely along with the classic Disney version; it’s had bits and pieces added and a few taken away but it certainly follows the same course.
Where the joy comes in is the characterisation of these characters. Ben Kingsley’s solemn Bagheera and Bill Murray’s joyful Baloo are the perfect companions to Mowgli and truly represent two sides of the coin. Even Scarlett Johansson’s Ka – who is only in the film for the shortest time – perfectly captures that hissing seduction. The real stand out though is Idris Elba as Shere Khan, who is terrifying menace encaptured in a tiger like form. He is genuinely a bit scary, and more than a few children will cover their eyes when he appears on the screen.
The truth is going through all the voice casting would take all day. Walken’s Louie – who in this adaptation is a Gigantopithecus – is incredibly unsettling, turning ‘I Want To Be Like You’ into a threat. Because yes, some of those songs do turn up and while they are not given the all singing all dancing treatment of the original, they are cleverly slipped into the film in a way that doesn’t feel forced.
The Jungle Book is just a pleasure to watch. It’s the movie equivalent of being greeted at the door by an old friend with a good drink and getting ushered into the living room for a night of fun. There is just nothing to complain about. Also, if you don’t sit through the gorgeous credits, then you are a fool.