2016 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

Six decades after introducing the world to the bare necessities of Rudyard Kipling's tropical tale, Disney reworks the adventure with an eye-catching blend of live action and digital wizardry. Newcomer Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, the orphaned 'man-cub' who must leave the wolf pack who raised him when the man-hating tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) comes looking for his blood. As Mowgli sets out with his panther guardian Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to find a new home, his quest throws up all manner of lessons and surprises, from the laid-back philosophies of Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) to the slippery seductions of Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson) and the fiery ambitions of big, bad ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). Director Jon Favreau brings the timeless story to spectacular, digi-real life in a rollicking jungle rumble that can stand proudly alongside the animated classic.

Director

  • Jon Favreau

Cast

  • Neel Sethi

  • Bill Murray

  • Ben Kingsley

  • Idris Elba

  • Lupita Nyong'o

  • Scarlett Johansson

  • Christopher Walken

Review

With the legacy of a classic at stake, it comes as a great relief to discover that the 2016 edition of Disney's Jungle Book a real page-turner. And the illustrations are astonishing.

Animal, vegetable or mineral, every inch of this Kipling-inspired world is beautifully rendered. What makes it even more impressive is how seamlessly the film's only real creature - young debutant Neel Sethi's Mowgli - fits into it.

Forced to flee his adoptive home when the vengeful Shere Khan (Elba) threatens his wolf family, Mowgli finds himself rubbing haunches with one wondrous digital beast after another whilst trying to survive stampedes, landslides, kidnappings, fires, treacherous trees and falling masonry.

Despite a steady vein of dry humour and fresh (if somewhat inferior) spins on The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You, the mood is several shades darker than the 1967 cartoon.

Mowgli's various scrapes certainly leave their mark, while other burnings, maulings and killings may make it a bit too fierce for younger man-cubs.

The more earnest tone also means more screen time for well-meaning killjoy Bagheera (Kingsley) and Mowgli's wolf parents Akela and Raksha (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong'o) to fly the flag for courage, family and integrity.

But let's be honest, most of us would trade any one of their lectures for a second encounter with serpentine seductress Kaa. As voiced by Scarlett Johansson, the argument for another scene is ssssupremely perssssuasive.

The film makes other vocal departures with Bill Murray playing Baloo as an ursine version of himself (cool, wily, sardonic) and Idris Elba bringing a touch of the London streets to Shere Khan after the cut-glass caddishness of George Sanders.

But the greatest character change is in alpha primate King Louie, who's been transformed from a jazzed-up orang-utan into a megalomaniacal, fire-obsessed cross between Apocalypse Now's Colonel Kurtz and King Kong.

Thankfully there are no Liverpudlian vultures in this one, which, despite being a timely nod to The Beatles, seemed out of place even back in 1967.

So all credit to screenwriter Justin Marks for hitting the right Disney notes while finding his own jungle beat. Must be a brave man - he's been asked to restart another much-loved classic as the writer of Top Gun 2.

Hats off too to director Jon Favreau. Aided by his CGI wizards and some terrific editing, the man behind Iron Man has pulled off another matinee-style crowd-pleaser with breathtaking clarity and verve.

Mr Kipling would be exceedingly pleased.

Elliott Noble