Review: The Jungle Book | Virgin Media
Review: The Jungle Book

Review: The Jungle BookBy Emma Simmonds | Rating: ★★★★☆

14/04/2016Movies

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Following the miraculous menagerie of Zootropolis, Disney have only gone and done it again with this impeccably executed adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s cherished anthology, featuring an all-star voice cast. Although Jon Favreau’s film is officially live-action, it’s heavily indebted to its visual effects team, with the lush forest, sodden valleys and cornucopia of creatures appearing photo-real. Owing as much to the iconic 1967 animated musical as the stories on which it was based, this new take on The Jungle Book nevertheless throws out much of the earlier film’s joviality, taking a lead from Kipling’s original tone by placing a greater emphasis on peril.

The technical wizardry is apparent from the opening frames, as we’re welcomed into a dense jungle, rendered with exquisite, colourful clarity in three near-tangible dimensions. There we meet Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the orphaned child discovered by a panther as a babe and taken into the embrace of the animal kingdom, where he’s a ticking time-bomb who will grow up to be the thing they fear the most: man. His feline saviour is the sage Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), who acts as Mowgli’s watchful mentor, while he’s raised by a family of wolves – including noble mother figure Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).

Disney have only gone and done it again

When tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) – stocky, scarred and leaving all that behold him trembling in his wake – learns of the presence of the man-cub within their ranks, he vows to kill him, a threat that causes a rift between Mowgli and his pack. And so he heads off on a journey which sees him befriend the affable but indolent bear Baloo (Bill Murray), who finds uses for the boy’s human trickery, and falls briefly into the clutches (or more accurately coils) of seductive python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).

The story may have lost a little of its impact through familiarity, meaning those coming to it fresh are particularly fortunate, however Favreau’s retelling marks a significant improvement on Disney’s last major crack at the material, the 1994 film from Stephen Sommers that focused largely on an adult Mowgli (played by martial artist Jason Scott Lee) – a version in which the animals lost their voices and the film lost its songs. This new take, penned by screenwriter Justin Marks, sticks largely to the narrative of the better-loved animation, reinstating the songs in a way that’s not too much of a distraction from the film’s darker tone. While Kaa’s ‘Trust in Me’ settles for being slyly woven into the score, ‘The Bare Necessities’ gets a joyful, nicely incorporated rendition, after being initially teased.

It’s quality family entertainment with surprisingly sharp teeth

The marvellous King Louie – a creation of the original film – pops up but, in the modern tradition of bigger equals better, the orang-utan aristocrat becomes a Gigantopithecus, an extinct species of great ape, with his size exaggerated for effect. Voiced by Christopher Walken and sporting the actor’s icy glare, as Louie emerges from the shadows of a ruined temple it’s clear that this once rather playful character has been reimagined as a cross between Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz and Don Corleone, though the sinister spell is somewhat broken when he launches into a revised version of spirited scat track ‘I Wanna Be Like You’.

Welcome to the jungle, we got fun ‘n’ games.

Welcome to the jungle, we got fun ‘n’ games.

Given that he’s the only on-screen performer in a line-up full of CG creations, diminutive newcomer Sethi should have been left swinging, but his mischief and pluck proves charming, and if he struggles a tad with the emotional enormity of some of the film’s more dramatic scenes it’s barely a distraction. He’s expertly flanked too, with Walken, Murray and Johansson especially well cast (it’s hard to imagine who would be better suited to their respective roles) and Elba’s Shere Khan genuinely menacing.

You can trussssst in Ssssssscarlett as the ssseductive python, Kaa

You can trussssst in Ssssssscarlett as the ssseductive python, Kaa

From hulking brutes to titchy critters, the rough hide of a rhino to the smooth, dark fur of Bagheera, the film delights in the variety of beasts, textures and landscapes. Despite the heavy employment of VFX it manages to be enchanting without being otherworldly and is so vividly realised that it overcomes the discolouration so often associated with 3D to utilise that particular technology to potent, sumptuous effect. Quality family entertainment with surprisingly sharp teeth, The Jungle Book captures the danger and majesty of the natural world by harnessing the full visual potential of cinema.

The Jungle Book is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th April.

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