Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s tale is a beautifully realised story of self-discovery and is charming, funny and highly entertaining to boot.
Going back to the original source material, but also lovingly referencing scenes from Disney’s much-loved animated version, Favreau’s version is his own. It relies heavily on the visuals to create the magic, which it does, proving that a familiar story can still work if it is done really well. Favreau keeps the plot simple, allowing the characters to charm us and the visuals to wow.
We see much more of the wolves, there is a greater emphasis on the Law of the Jungle (I admit, I recited it along with Mowgli) and Favreau makes of his elephants majestic creatures rather than the silly, march-obsessed caricatures of Disney’s version.
This version is quite dark, emphasising Mowgli’s journey of self-discovery and how he comes to see himself as “other” thanks to Bengal tiger Shere Khan’s words, but also how he figures out who he is, and what being a man cub means.
Filmed almost entirely in CGI, this version shows the young man cub Mowgli (introducing Neel Sethi as one of only two real characters in the film), raised by wolves, deep in the Indian jungle. When Shere Khan (voiced by Elba) discovers the man cub, he immediately voices his intention to kill Mowgli, who reluctantly agrees to seek out the man village for protection.
Stern panther, Bagheera (Kingsley), accompanies Mowgli, mentoring him on the ways of the wild as they travel, admonishing the man cub to follow the ways of the wolf pack, but insisting that the boy must return to the humans, confusing him no end.
Once he meets Baloo (Murray) the fun starts and we even see Mowgli learn about singing. While the snake Kaa doesn’t quite sing him to sleep (though Johansson does sing Trust in Me over the gorgeously rendered and very funny end credit sequence), the python encounter scene is scary, with the immaculate sound design sucking you into the danger with Mowgli.
While this world might be entirely computer-generated, the level of detail and impeccable creature design raises the bar on how realistic CGI can be and the voice casting is spot on. (International reviewers have been very complimentary of the 3d quality, but Ster-Kinekor’s screen at Cavendish Square continues to create headaches.)
Elba makes for a hypnotically arrogant tiger, bringing a huge sense of presence to the role of a tiger who rules by fear, Murray is amiable and pragmatic as the honey- loving Baloo and Christopher Walken creates in his King Louis a cult leader of sorts, though he (and Kaa, Mowgli as well as Baloo) actually didn’t need to break out in song to get his point across.
Young Sethi creates a sweet, kind-hearted innocent who easily keeps the audience’s attention focused despite distractingly beautiful scenery and intriguingly eccentric character.
Ultimately heart-warming with a subtle score, the story feels real and while it might not be for little children, it is a family- friendly affair.
If you liked Maleficent or reading The Jungle Book, you will like this.