By Thomas Simpson
Walt Disney’s 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is arguably the most famous interpretation of the author’s work. Inspired by his collection of stories, Disney took artistic license with the source material and put their own stamp on it, creating a legendary film in the process. Almost 50 years after its release, the legendary studio has produced a quasi live-action remake with a real life Mowgli (Neel Sethi) inhabiting a CGI world complete with photorealistic animals.
The animated setting looks huge, with the 3-D layering utilized to give prominent depth to the expansive jungle. Mowgli looks tiny in his surroundings, often dwarfed by his animal counterparts (with a little exaggeration given to their size). Although the man cub has been raised by wolves, other animals view his presence with suspicion, and none more than the fearsome tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a black panther who found Mowgli alone in the jungle as a child, offers to take him to the man village where he will be safer with his own kind. Not that Shere Khan is willing to compromise as long as Mowgli lives.
Elba is menacing as the Bengal tiger, his deep voice enhancing Khan’s fearsome appearance. Khan is frightening and calculatingly savage, traits that may prove upsetting for younger audiences. Director Jon Favreau has hardly crafted a gritty reboot yet there is an unmistakable gloom in Bill Pope’s cinematography. Christopher Walken’s King Louie (from an orangutan to a Gigantopithecus ) is also an intimidating figure, portrayed here as a threatening gangster, complete with trademark Walken expressions. It contrasts greatly with his more humorous 1967 counterpart.
Not that The Jungle Book is devoid of humor. Bill Murray is delightful as the sloth bear Baloo delivering his lines with a wonderful lightness that will evoke nostalgic memories of the character and likely create new ones for those fresh to the story. Favreau decided not to make the film a musical however he incorporates some of the legendary songs from the 1967 film into this one. The Bare Necessities is carefully woven into the plot and compliments the scenes in which it appears. I Wan’na Be Like You, on the other hand, doesn’t fit with Walken’s Louie; instead, it shifts the tone of the scene and feels out of place.
Favreau’s film lacks the magic of the 1967 animated feature but it does add a foreboding sense of adventure and generates great drama. There is a grandiose atmosphere that shrouds the film which heightens the dangers and allows us to invest in Mowgli’s journey. It won’t be remembered as the definitive interpretation of Kipling’s work, but The Jungle Book’s intense and impressive visuals bring excitement to this much-adapted story.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.