Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale comes to life in a new avatar as we swing through the jungle with Mowgli – a boy raised in the wild by a pack of wolves, a black panther and a happy-go-lucky bear.
In the Jungle, the mighty Jungle
In this re-adaptation of the 1967 Disney classic, Jon Favreau brings to life, quite literally, the most intense and satisfying version of The Jungle Book yet. The film opens with a glorious chase sequence through the lush sub-continental jungles of Rudyard Kipling and a chilling voice-over by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). This voice-over brackets the story line, explaining to us in a neat fashion what the jungle is all about.
Mowgli (Neel Sethi) was found as a ‘man-cub’ by the panther Bagheera. The responsibility of raising this man-cub was soon relayed to the pack of wolves, led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and the mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) raises Mowgli as one of her own. The skies stop pouring and soon, the law of the jungle is amended.
The Water Truce as they called it, other than making Darwin cringe, would allow all animals to peacefully hydrate themselves at the pond, but of course, nothing is ever finitely peaceful. Enter Shere Khan (Idris Elba) – a terrifying Bengal tiger scarred in more ways than one by his history with man. Upon learning of the presence of a man-cub in the kingdom, Khan takes matters into his own paws.
Bagheera decides to help Mowgli return to the man-village, where he will be welcome. But the two get separated as Mowgli has to battle nature to survive. Using his wit, and sometimes his blissful innocence, he journeys through the jungle making friends and enemies alike in a scintillating adventure.
The Bear Necessities of Film-Making
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Zathura) not only stays faithful to Kipling’s Jungle Book, but gives us a stunning rendition of CGI-driven storyline. He crafts this movie with nifty perfection by balancing the emotional and visual aspects.
The plot isn’t new, even for the ones who haven’t heard of The Jungle Book previously (Yes, such people exist).
That being said, it’s never easy to bring out something ancient with a fresh update. Favreau does just that, with his enchanting jungles, hair-accurate CGI and breathtaking sequences.
What writer Justin Marks has managed to do is maintain the innocence of the plot for younger audiences while bringing forth the darkness in Kipling’s original. The movie is formulaic in its approach, but that only does the movie favors.
The ‘Bear Necessities’ and King Louie’s ‘I want to be like you’ are given a jazz update and is pleasant in every sense. Even the chemistry between characters, although mostly green screen talking to green screen is admirable. The production team and Bill Pope deserve a special applause.
The score by John Debney is slightly overdramatic towards the final act. Nevertheless, Debney manages to incorporate all the essentials from the original classic and delivers a smooth score.
The Food Chain
The USP of this movie is the voice casting.
The list is extensive and accurate to the point of unnerving. Above all is Idris Elba (Thor, Pacific Rim) prowling. His portrayal of Shere Khan is terrifyingly superb. Elba voices Khan with perfect arrogance – grunts, growls and everything. Fans can only hope he is picked as the next Bond. Initially, Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Hugo) was a queer casting for the role of Bagheera from a personal standpoint. But he pleasantly surprises you with his no-messing-around attitude.
Kingsley brings the characteristic maturity of Bagheera on screen.
Newcomer Neel Sethi did justice to the role of Mowgli, but his overplayed innocence was a certain negative. He has a lot to learn, but did a fine job for his age.
Another stellar performance was by Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters) as Baloo the Bear. Murray was as smooth as the honey Baloo feasts on. His mellow voice suited the happy-go-lucky nature of the bear.
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave, Non-stop) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Smoke) both put in solid performances as Raksha and Akela respectively. Nyong’o was the perfect comforting presence that was required as the mother wolf and Esposito delivered well as the leader of the wolf pack.
Other notable but short performances include those of Scarlett Johanssen (The Prestige, The Avengers) as Kaa the seductive snake and Christopher Walken (Wedding Crashers, Batman Returns) as King Louie, the Gigantopithecus ruler of apes. Watch out for a surprise blink-and-miss role from Russell Peters.
All in All
The Jungle Book has got to be Jon Favreau’s finest work yet. What would have initially seemed as a dry technical CGI-fest for most, turned out to be a supreme work of art orchestrated by this genius. The film contains elements which will keep all age groups entertained while staying faithful to the original.
This is definitely a fun family adventure in every sense, unlike many of the live-action attempts at this story preceding this movie.
One thing is for sure – Rudyard Kipling is somewhere up there smiling.
Watch it if you’re: A fan of The Jungle Book OR Love a CGI adventure.