Friday 27 April 2018

The Jungle Book movie review: 'a thrilling and remarkably sophisticated offering'

Dark: Bill Murray as Baloo and Neel Sethi as Mowgli in Disney's 'The Jungle Book'
Dark: Bill Murray as Baloo and Neel Sethi as Mowgli in Disney's 'The Jungle Book'

Chris Wasser

Let’s try to get our facts straight, shall we? This is not Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book. Nope, different film altogether, lads. In fact, it’ll be 2018 by the time the artist previously known as Gollum makes his directorial debut with his own live-action version of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved children’s story.


Still, you can understand our confusion. That’s what happens when two different studios announce plans to produce two different versions of the same story. This time around, Disney got there first. So, how do we separate them? Easy. This Jungle Book boasts a definite article. And, it also features an on-form Bill Murray as a lazy, wise-cracking, honey-lovin’ bear. That’s some genius casting, right there.

Call it a live-action remake, or a money-spinning reboot, but the fact of the matter is that, in revisiting one of the most adored, animated musicals of all time, the folks at Mickey Mouse Movies Ltd have crafted a surprisingly well-made and exceptionally charming effort, in which an orphan named Mowgli does his best to convince Baloo, Bagheera and the rest of the lads that he really does belong in the jungle. Yep, Disney’s The Jungle Book is kinda awesome.

Sitting in the director’s chair is one Jon Favreau, aka, the man who made Iron Man cool. Having taken a short break from the blockbuster market to write, direct and star in 2014’s delightful, indie road trip offering, Chef, Favreau returns to the world of large-scale film-making, lighting a new fire under a familiar tale and carefully unravelling a story that, though coated in copious layers of CGI trickery, boasts an emotional weight and, indeed, heart, not normally associated with these kinds of big-budget, marquee presentations.

A lot of that has to do with young Neel Sethi (Mowgli), a frightfully confident newcomer who, as one of only two live-action cast members (the rest of the star-studded ensemble recorded their lines in a vocal booth), pretty much carries this film from the get-go.

You know the drill: Mowgli, the man-cub, is raised by wolves, a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) keeps an eye on him, and all is well in the jungle until a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) starts throwing his weight around (he wants the kid’s head on a breakfast plate, basically).

It’s decided, then, that for everyone’s safety, Mowgli should return to his own kind, and our fearsome little warrior sets off on a journey, during which he encounters a pesky snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the aforementioned Baloo, who teaches him, among other things, The Bare Necessities (Bill Murray, deploying that deadpan delivery of his to remarkable effect). Oh, and let’s not forget about good-old King Louie (a terrific Christopher Walken).

Here’s the weird bit: this version of The Jungle Book isn’t actually a musical. Yes, there are a couple of famous tunes in the mix, but they serve only as a neat throwback to the 1967 cartoon, for this new and improved take on Kipling’s timeless tale is, instead, a thrilling and remarkably sophisticated offering.

Largely filmed on sound stages in LA, there are times when it is genuinely hard to believe that The Jungle Book wasn’t actually shot in a jungle (a $175 million budget can have that effect). Visually, The Jungle Book is in a league of its own. But it also succeeds in the storytelling department, serving up a funny, thrilling and endearing script in the process.

True, there is a question mark hanging over this film’s demographic. Who, exactly, is it aimed at? Indeed, it’s a little too dark in places, and that bleedin’ tiger might not go down well with the little ones (even the monkeys are freaky). The grainy 3D effects sort of ruin the film’s action-packed finale, too. Still, it’s never boring, and besides, we’d happily watch Bill Murray’s Baloo eating honey and telling porkies all day long. The ball is in your court, Mr Serkis…


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