Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jon Favreau

Stars: Neel Sethi, voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Garry Shandling.

Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of Mowgli, the orphan boy raised in the jungle by wolves, has been told many times on screen before, most notably in the 1967 animated version from Disney studios. That was the last film that Walt Disney himself was personally involved with, as he died before it was released. Since then there have been several other versions, including an inispid live action version from director Stephen Sommers in 1994 and an animated sequel.

Here director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef, etc) deftly mixes live action with superb digital effects and cutting edge technology to create a winning take on the classic tale. This is a visually impressive film with some of the best use of the 3D process since James Cameron’s Avatar. The animals are realistically brought to life through some state of the art digital effects. We easily become immersed in the digitally created jungle. Favreau’s film even reworks two of the classic songs from the Disney animated tale, including the Oscar winning The Bare Necessities.

However while this version, scripted by Justin Marks (who is working on a script for Top Gun 2) remains faithful to the animated film it is decidedly darker in tone. There are some scenes, mainly featuring the tiger Shere Khan, that will be too intense and scary for younger audiences.

The story is narrated by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who is a mentor of sorts to the young Mowgli. Raised in the jungle he is reluctantly forced to leave the pack of wolves he calls family due to the threatening presence of the tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idros Elba). Bagheera wants to take Mowgli to the Man Village for his own safety, and Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery. He finds temporary respite in a cave he shares with Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) a slothful and genial bear with a taste for honey (Winnie The Pooh, anyone?), who provides plenty of comic relief. The pair share some comical adventures before Mowgli is forced to confront Shere Khan once and for all.

Mowgli also faces threats from Kaa, a giant snake voiced in seductive and hypnotic fashion by Scarlett Johansson, and the giant orangutan King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken, who brings a touch of menace to his vocal performance) in a sequence that offers a light hearted riff on the climactic confrontation in Apocalypse Now.

As Mowgli, newcomer Neel Sethi is the only human actor amongst a cast of CGI created creatures. Sethi was selected from thousands of young kids from around the world who auditioned for the coveted role, and he is perfectly cast. He does a fine job of capturing his spirit and energy and childlike wonder at the mysteries of the jungle he calls home. Favreau has assembled an ensemble voice cast here that also includes Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as Mowgli’s den mother Raksha, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, and the late Garry Shandling, who bring life to the other characters. Stand out contributions from the impressive vocal cast include Murray’s scene stealing and endearing rendition of Baloo, which is a highlight, and Elba, who drips malice as the tiger that hates mankind with a passion.

Technically proficient, this version of The Jungle Book offers a rich, spectacular feast for the senses that will enthral adults and older children. Bill Pope’s rich and lush cinematography and John Debney’s rousing score complement Favreau’s vision. Far from being a redundant remake, this new version is superb and adds a new texture to Kipling’s classic tale.



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