Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

This could become as big a masterpiece as the book itself

A CGI version of the Kipling classic with an all-star cast to boot; some said it couldn’t fail, and how right they were.

Disney’s brand spanking-new reboot of The Jungle Book takes elements of just about every incarnation of the story that there’s ever been, from the 1894 novel to their own animated 1967 version, to make arguably the best picture of 2016 so far.

And a lot of the credit must go to director Jon Favreau. The Iron Man orchestrator was not necessarily an obvious choice to helm this project, but he’s done a sterling job with it, as it benefits from a pace that’s every bit as frenetic as any Marvel flick. In fact it rarely lets up, with action that gets the adrenaline going from minute one. Without giving too much away, there’s a sequence that is more than a little reminiscent of the stampede scene from none other than Jurassic Park, as well as a few other things that remind you of other CGI films, although you do wonder if the medium can get any better than this. As for Justin Marks script, it is an extremely polished piece of writing that manages to thread through the full spectrum of our emotions quite seamlessly. Not only that, but it also subtly gives us a true perspective of our place on planet earth and our fractious relationship with the animal kingdom.

Having said all of this, the movie as a whole is taken into another dimension by a terrific, near-faultless cast. Rookie actor Neel Sethi, who plays the only main live-action character in Mowgli, seems quite at home in the role, especially considering the major players who are voicing the characters that surround him throughout the piece – and what players they are! The thespianic tones of Ben Kingsley suit the all-knowing panther, Bagheera, wonderfully well, which is even more evident when Bill Murray‘s Baloo enters the fray, as the pair’s polar opposites compliment each other superbly.

Scarlett Johansson conveys the hypnotic charms of Kaa as only a true Hollywood temptress could, while Christopher Walken brings a streetwise edge to an otherwise scarily imposing King Louie. But the real star of the show is Idris Elba as Shere Khan. For the first thirty seconds or so, it’s not clear as to whether his voice entirely fits the part, but this is quickly dispelled with some genuinely menacing delivery, so much so that you wonder if Elba is actually tailor-made to play a memorable Bond villain of the future, rather than the role of 007 which he’s been tipped to play.

It will be interesting to see how the upcoming adaptation of another legendary tale, The BFG, will measure up, as well as Warner Brothers’ own take-on The Jungle Book next year. It would be easy to wax lyrical about this present offering all day long, but you really should go and take a walk on the wild side yourself.

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