The Jungle Book

Year: 2016
Studio: Disney
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Marks/Rudyard Kipling
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kinglsey, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Garry Shandling

In what must have emboldened the teams behind at least three Robin Hood films in development as I write this review, this third crack at Rudyard Kipling's immortal classic has been a critical and commercial smash.

If you don't know the story I might as well describe the plot of Star Wars to you as well. Orphaned man cub Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi, rough around the edges but what can you expect from a kid who's all of eight years old?) has grown up in the jungle, raised by wolves and best friends with Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley).

But Bagheera knows Mowgli's place is ultimately with his own kind, and when fearsome tiger Shere Kahn (Idris Elba) comes gunning for him to get revenge for his own disfigurement at the hands of man thanks to the red flower (fire), Mowgli's return becomes all the more urgent.

Bagheera sends Mowgli away, back to his own kind against the latter's wishes, and the story is about his adventures getting there, including befriending the lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and running afoul of both Kaa the python (Scarlett Johansson) and orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).

The story follows Disney's original animated movie and has plenty of the elements of Zoltan Korda's 1942 version, so there's a big curiosity factor to see how modern CGI and the tone of movies today is updated for modern audiences.

At more than one point there's a disconnect. The original King Louie sequence was one of chaotic fun rather than threat, but director Jon Favreau depicts his Louie as a monster, a giant hairy ape enshrouded half in darkness and exuding an air of danger when Mowgli first meets him. When he breaks into 'I wanna be like you-oo-oo', it jars badly.

In fact the whole Louie scene is off. Of all the recognisable voices in the cast, Walken's sounds the most like stunt casting – you can't ignore the fact that it's Christopher Walken doing a funny voice and spontaneous laughter broke out in the theatre when I saw it where it wasn't supposed to.

But the technical achievement is astounding. Like Avatar, it was shot in a warehouse with all the jungle, animals and landscapes digitally rendered later. It's a feather in Favreau's cap as a director after proving how many other kinds of movies he can excel at, and it's another entry into Disney's massive golden streak.

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