<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Neel Sethi and the voice talent of Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
The kids of today may not remember this old classic cartoon (that’s what we called it back in our day) from Disney. This is the stuff we grew up on. Most remakes nowadays are hollow shells of the originals. But Jon Favreau’s retelling in ‘live action’ manages to stay true and has a reasonable amount of new touches.
Similar to the tale of Tarzan, The Jungle Book has little Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who was left alone in the jungle as a baby and then rescued by a black panther called Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and raised by a pack of wolves headed by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his wife Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). But soon, the dreaded Shere Khan (Idris Elba) resents the ‘man cub’ that he fears will grow in to a real man and threaten the jungle and its creatures with his ‘red flower’ of fire. Mowgli must go back to the man village but not before a little adventure.
Iron Man director Jon Favreau has given the film a dark tone with intermittent scenes of humour courtesy new friend Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). What’s also a revelation is that the entire set and location as well as all the animals have been created with CGI. A fact that PETA and other animal and green organisations are very happy with. The only real actor through the film is little Neel Sethi who has done a remarkable job of interfacing with the animals who aren’t really there.
I also found the tone of the characters to be subtle. They speak in hushed tones and rarely raise their voices. Of course you can make out that a lot of the animals are CGI but some are extremely close to the real thing. You’ll be wondering: what about the songs? ‘Bear necessities’ and ‘I want to be like you’ feature in the film but not in the theatrical way they did in the animated film. They’re woven in neatly but without any singing and dancing.
Idris Elba as Shere Khan is menacing but the real wickedness comes from Christopher Walken’s King Louis. The ginormous orang-utan lord’s scene adds to the darkness of the movie. I only wish that Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa was given more time; apart from a brief ‘trust in me’ scene she’s absent. Her sultry voice and slithery form deserved more of a presence.
And oh for the fans of Colonel Haathi from the cartoon, you’ll find there are elephants in The Jungle Book but sadly no song for the ‘elephants on patrol’. The end isn’t as per the original either and it is these little tweaks that make the film interesting since otherwise we’d get a bit bored, especially those of us who know the story.
CGI seems to be taking over but The Jungle Book manages to merge smart story telling with it in a way that makes for pleasing and entertaining experience.