This review was previously published in The National newspaper.
IT’S time to forget about your worries and your strife; Disney’s new version of The Jungle Book is nothing short of tremendous.
We start off with Mowgli (played by spirited newcomer Neel Sethi) running through the jungle at top speed, training to become like the wolf pack with whom he’s been raised thus far.
But when the powerful tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) makes a sudden appearance to assert his dominance and proclaim that keeping a man-cub is forbidden, Mowgli is forced to leave behind all he’s ever known. With Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) by his side, he goes off on a dangerous adventure through the jungle on his way to the human village where he’s been told he belongs.
What director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) has very skilfully done is taken the classic story by Rudyard Kipling that we all know and love and morphed it into a near-perfect mix of big blockbuster escapism and heartwarming nostalgia. With the help of astonishing CGI, he has created a fully realised jungle wildlife world that’s at once utterly convincing and fantastically enchanting.
There’s a great commitment to pure, unadulterated spectacle at play here, not just in the action set-pieces — most of which take the form of exhilarating chases — but in letting us soak in the amazing surroundings of this jungle that Kipling created more than a century ago.
Those curious about the all-important songs will be happy to know they make a joyous appearance here — what kind of a Jungle Book movie would it be without The Bare Necessities or I Wanna Be Like You? — while also being more subtly woven into John Debney’s simultaneously epic, playful and affecting score.
The special effects on the various jungle-inhabiting creatures is sublime, from the expressions on their faces to the lifelike hairs on their bodies; if it weren’t for the fact that they’re talking, you’d genuinely think you were watching real animals. This is the kind of film that is a testament to the power of CGI and what kind of cinematic magic it can conjure.
In addition to the jaw-dropping visual effects, each of the characters are wonderfully brought to life by a cleverly chosen voice cast, from Bill Murray’s endearingly (often literally) laid back bear Baloo to Idris Elba’s genuinely intimidating Shere Khan to Christopher Walken who steals the film as the charming yet formidable King Louie. Even the surprisingly limited appearance of Scarlett Johansson as the snake Kaa can’t stop her making an impact.
The Jungle Book is that rarest of films: a fresh take on classic material that feels perfectly balanced between being for a new generation while never forgetting about what made it so great in the first place. This is an endearing, funny, often moving and all around wildly entertaining cinematic experience with enough wit, charm and imagination to fill a dozen more. Make no mistake about it: this is one of the best films of the year so far.