Film review: THE JUNGLE BOOK, from ‘Built For Speed’

There have been two terrific films this year that have featured worlds populated by talking and mostly unified animals. The first was the completely computer animated Zootopia, the second is the largely computer generated remake of The Jungle Book. With this latest adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous stories, Director John Favreau has captured something very special and his film, in many ways, surpasses the extremely popular and cuter 1967 Disney cartoon.

For those unfamiliar with the story, The Jungle Book describes the idyllic life of the young Indian boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who, after his father’s death, was adopted by a pack of wolves and raised by adoptive Mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and his mentor Bahgeera the panther (Sir Ben Kingsley). The idyll is shattered, though, when the vicious tiger Shere Khan comes seeking revenge on Mowgli whose father had scarred him with man’s most terrifying weapon, fire or as the animals call it ‘the red flower’. With the jungle creatures unable to protect him from Shere Khan, Mowgli must make a treacherous journey through the forest to the village of men.

With stunning, photo-realistic incarnations of the Indian jungle and the book’s famous creatures, the film is a technical marvel. Favreau has created a completely convincing world of sinister, steamy forests, glistening Eden-like gardens and vast savannas.

More importantly, though, the film has heart. Mowgli’s journey is really about the loss of childhood innocence and his separation from the characters he has grown to love is surprisingly poignant and moving. The film’s success is due in no small part to its excellent voice cast with Sir Ben making Bahgeera a wise, noble and touchingly protective character while Bill Murray makes the lumbering bear Baloo, whom Mowgli befriends, a lovable and amusing lug. By contrast, Idris Elba with his strident British accent, makes Shere Khan a particularly menacing villain. Scarlett Johannsson also adds a seductively creepy quality to the predatory python Kaa.

Some aspects of the film jar – at least at first. Hearing Christopher Walken’s much-imitated tones as the voice of King Kong sized orangutan King Louie is initially distracting as he makes the enormous ape sound like a gangster from Queens. Walken eventually succeeds, however, in making the jungle king a threatening character in a way Barry Humphries failed to do as the similar Goblin King in The Hobbit.  As homage to the 1967 film, the current version of the Jungle Book includes a couple of the famous songs. This seems an odd move given the more serious tone of Favreau’s film but the characters, particularly Baloo, manage to perform the tunes in such an endearing way that they don’t grate too much.

It’s invigorating to see a much-filmed story given new life through such clever film making. While occasionally scary for littlies The Jungle Book is a must-see family film.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Animated/ Family/ Adventure.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): John Favreau.

Release date: 28thApril 2016.

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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