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The Jungle Book – Film Review


The Jungle Book – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (book)
Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley

Fans of Classic Disney could be forgiven for having doubts about the new trend for live-action remakes; but thankfully when it comes to The Jungle Book, any fears can be allayed. Drawing on the 1967 animated classic as well as Rudyard Kipling’s original stories, the new incarnation is faithful to the original film, without trying too hard to imitate it.

When a particularly harsh dry season leads to a ‘water truce’, it is a chance for animals from opposite ends of the food chain to come together; amongst them ‘man cub’ Mowgli, who has been raised by the wolf-pack. When Tiger Shere Khan (this year’s most terrifying villain, played by Idris Elba) discovers this, he is outraged; demanding that the boy be handed over as soon as the truce ends. With the entire pack threatened, Mowgli agrees to leave the Jungle and travel to the man village with Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). But when they are separated on the way, Mowgli encounters a number of other personalities including honey-loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray), ape King Louie (Christopher Walken) and, passing a fear of snakes on to a new generation, the hypnotic Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).

CGI heavy films may have had mixed results in recent years, but director by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) and cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) create the world of the film so seamlessly, that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t really shot in the jungle. Sound and visual effects are crafted in such detail that moments as simple as Bagheera padding slowly up a track are a joy to watch, and it’s easy to forget the huge role that CGI played in the film’s creation. Some credit for this must be given to the only on-screen actor Neel Sethi, who is utterly convincing as Mowgli whether he’s free-running through the jungle, or floating peacefully down the river on Baloo’s chest. Not only does he help the audience believe in the world he is experiencing, he is also having have great fun with it!

Alongside Mowgli, each animal portrayed is truly individual; and the all-star cast voicing the characters (including the late Garry Shandling as a porcupine) are merely part of the package, impeccably cast for the characters they’re playing, rather than relying solely on their celebrity.

There’s been some debate on the presence of songs in the new adaptation, but they’d surely be missed if they weren’t there; and some of the most famous pieces seem integral to the characters who sing them. Walken’s King Louie in particular is undoubtedly a different, more sinister character than Louis Prima’s iconic performance; but it is these contrasts, rather than the similarities, that make the new film worthwhile. John Debney’s score masterfully blends classic themes with the new, grittier mood; carrying the audience along with it and helping to balance the script’s darkness, and humour.

With a darker atmosphere, the action is paired interestingly with issues of community, growing up, and the relationship between man and nature; adding texture to what had previously focused on light entertainment. Under Favreau’s direction, the different elements of the film work beautifully together; and the end result is both an emotional, and thrilling ride for the audience. It may not replace the animated classic, but The Jungle Book certainly sets the bar for what can be done in live-action adaptations, and brings the story to a new generation.


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