“Many strange tales are told of this jungle, but none so strange as the tale of the cub we call Mowgli.”
In the deluge of Disney‘s often horrendous remakes of their classic features, Jon Favreau‘s The Jungle Book surprisingly stands out as one of the few exceptions to their usual bar of substandard quality; even managing to improve in several ways on the original 1967 classic adaptation.
Unlike some of the studio’s most recent remake offerings, The Jungle Book significantly alters the story structure from its original’s largely disconnected string of cheery vignettes into a more layered, yet still relatively small, narrative. In parts amplified by some impressive, genuinely weighty visual effects and John Debney’s ample and terrific score, its world and characters are wonderfully rendered without losing its believability, saccharine heart or sense humour, with greater efforts made to expand upon its memorable characters in original and engrossing ways. The adeptly assembled voice cast is key to this, ranging from Bill Murray as Baloo, devised here as a lovable con artist, to Idris Elba‘s commanding Shere Khan, as well as the multitude of imaginative revisions of other iconic characters, including Ben Kingsley as a far more benign and teacherly Bagheera and Christopher Walken hamming it up to hilarity as King Louis. Unifying these elements however is the young Neel Sethi as Mowgli, who does a sound job of interacting with what is effectively completely green screens and mo-cap suits, exchanging the rather whiny, walking cypher of a character of the animated film for a more active, likeable for the audience. In the process, The Jungle Book opens itself for flirting with a number of rather adult themes – something the animated film completely dodges – that are more in tune with Kipling’s novella, positing Mowgli’s journey through adolescence and manhood as one of inventiveness and individuality rather than destruction and uniformity.
Beyond all belief, this version of The Jungle Book adroitly straddles the line between being a combination of the original Disney film and Kipling’s books. A rare effects-heavy feature able to (for the most part) avoid looking false in its worldbuilding, Favreau’s direction and direction of story charge the same level of welcoming merriment and comfort as its antecedents, perhaps more-so. If anything, it’s unafraid to modify beloved material many others (including Disney!) would refuse to change to create something different, making for a highly enjoyable, charming and eye-catching big-screen outing.