Rudyard Kipling’s tale is a classic and much treasured children’s book, later “Disneyfied” as a equally celebrated full length cartoon, with the addition of memorable catchy songs.
Adults of a certain age will certainly remember the tunes and catch phrases enshrined in the era, “Bare Necessities”, “I wanna be like you” and “Gone, solid gone”.
But the world moves on and younger children just accept without question a fully realised jungle where a young boy “Mowgli” (Neel Sethi) can exist on screen, surrounded by wild and very dangerous animals.
Mowgli has a great life, brought up by wolves “Raksha” (Lupita Nyong’o), “Akela” (Giancarlo Esposito), befriended by a panther “Bagheera” (Ben Kingsley) and latterly a bear named “Baloo” (Bill Murray), until overlapping jealousies intervene. Our hero is then chased by a photo real homicidal tiger “Shere Khan” (Idris Elba), a giant seductive snake (Scarlett Johansson) and outruns bison stampedes, all within the safety of a pixel populated world.
The story largely follows the book with some creative licence. King Louie’s (Christopher Walken) role is enhanced, providing an opportunity to destroy everything in his path, as he strives to be more like “Mowgli”. Whilst not a musical, the film weaves in the most famous songs and this works well enough.
Bearing in mind everything you see on screen apart from the young actor is not real but created in zero’s and one’s, the effects are technically stunning. The film exists as a fully realised vista populated by characters that act, feel and seem absolutely real. Well as near as makes no difference for casual audience goers.
Director Jon Faverau must take huge credit for the creation of this world and for teasing a fine performance out of his sole human “real on-screen” cast member. Sethi is not always perfect but bearing in mind his age and is acting with nothing but “sight-line mops” and blue screens, he does a fine job.
The book to screen transfer is not perfect, the story is a simple morality tale and follows a formula that ironically it helped to create many years ago. Arguably modern stories might add more depth and nuance, which is not to denigrate the source material. The film skews young but is largely in keeping with it’s target audience. Whilst the film does not shy away from some peril and mild jump scenes it avoids anything likely to scare even younger children.
Murray introduces some much needed humour to add a lighter tone, a few Disney type comic sidekick characters get thrown in for good measure but do not unbalance the show. Of course if you have never seen and heard talking animals before, it might take some getting used to.
A technical tour de force, beautifully updating the classic tale for a new generation, brought up on fast edits, spills and chases.
Undoubtedly the innocence of the earlier cartoon has been lost. However the film makes for an exciting romp through the jungle for a younger audience especially in 3D.