I just love The Jungle Book. I love the book; I love the 1960â€™s Disney film; I love the 1980â€™s Warner Brothers cartoon; I love the 1990s version with Jason Lee; I just love The Jungle Book. In a school production, I even played Bagheera, to hilariously awful effect- on opening night, in my first scene, I slipped on stage, crashed into the back wall and my ears and tail fell off. This, to my knowledge, never happened to Ben Kingsley in the filming of the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, but you never know.
This new version continues the tradition of Jungle Book adaptations that I adore. Letâ€™s get the technical stuff out of the way: the effects look amazing. Until now, I havenâ€™t been a fan of using CGI animals in film (Iâ€™m looking at you, Noah)- I prefer the old, Cecil B. DeMille wow factor of seeing a live tiger on celluloid. But this film convinced me otherwise; if every movie can give its computer-generated creations this much weight, personality and gravitas, then letâ€™s just do away with reality altogether, I say.
Talking animals are renowned for looking ridiculous outside of cartoons, but in this film they pull if off. Baloo really looks like a talking bear would (I imagine), Shere Khan is terrifying because not only is he a bloody Bengal tiger, heâ€™s also eloquent and intelligent and cunning. Thatâ€™s a potent combination. The film certainly plays fast and loose with the rules of animal speech, seeming to go with whateverâ€™s funniest and/or gives the most atmosphere: the monkeys donâ€™t say a word, and the little kangaroo mice can seemingly say only one word at a time, whereas a freshly born wolf cub (the equivalent of about a human three year old) can merrily chat away the dust about law and lore, the safety of the pack and the tactical merits of climbing trees. But, I personally didnâ€™t care because I was so enamored with the beasties talking.
The voice-acting is similarly enchanting- special recognition to whoever imagined Christopher Walken as a much larger-than-life King Louie and then decided to have him talk-sing â€˜I wanna be like youâ€™, thus rendering the most sinister Disney number since Frollo declared his intentions to cast Esmeralda into Hellfire. The other characters practically came with their voice actors attached (I imagine Billy Murray sitting patiently by the phone from the moment he heard this film was being made) but thereâ€™s no shame in going for the obvious choice when it synergises this well.
As for the one live action performance, I expected to tire of Neel Sethi as Mowgli, but he holds his own. Mowgli is destined to be the least interesting part of any Jungle Book adaptation, but Sethi manages to be likeable enough that you do worry for him in the climax.
The narrative has had an update as well- itâ€™s far more complex and morally murky than the 1960â€™s version, but thatâ€™s no bad thing. We know a lot more about manâ€™s impact on nature and the dangers of human interference with the food chain than when this story was first conceived, so hats off to Jon Favreau for managing to incorporate these ideas without turning the entire film into a sermon. Shere Khan has a reason to be afraid of man, we see- but Mowgli can also offer the jungle a lot in return if given the chance. The film praises ingenuity and the pursuit of knowledge, but tempered with respect for the natural way. I wonder how many children will pick up on that.
I really canâ€™t sing the praises of this film high enough- it made me laugh, it made me squirm, it made me think. I hope it gets a sequel, and Iâ€™d love if it got a Best Picture nomination (it wonâ€™t). Roll on more Jungle Book- we can never have enough.