JOHN FAVREAU’S VERSION of Walt Disney’s version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book is a wondrous delight.
It tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the man cub, raised as a wolf, befriended by Bageera, a panther (Ben Kingsley) and Baloo, a bear (Bill Murray) who must escape the dangers that surround him: Shere Khan (Idris Elba) the despotic tiger ruler of the jungle, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the hypnotic snake and King Louie (Christopher Walken), the gorilla giant. Kipling’s original series of stories (written when he lived in the US, for his six year old daughter) were written as instructional fables, the spirit of which still infuse and inform Favreau’s joyous, brilliantly executed romp.
The piece is a visual tour de force: following Mowgli’s hyperactive race through a dense, vine draped, river threaded, magical jungle, Favreau’s camera (this actor known from Iron Man and Entourage also directed Chef and Iron Man – 1 and 2) swoops and ducks under trees, up rock sliding cliffs and through the feet of thundering bison in a breathtaking masterclass of CGI genius. His Life of Pi-esque animals are awe shucks unbelievable. These are the jungles of India filmed entirely on location in LA.
Marvel, DC Comics, Michael Bay, look upon this work ye mighty and despair; it’s one of Hollywood’s Avatar/Jurassic Park moments, when you feel you’re in the presence of a huge technical leap forward.
But it’s not just the quality of the CGI (the seventy eight artists that brought this thing alive) that gives the movie its credibility and charm (in as much as a boy raised by wolves and singing a duet with a floating bear is credible), but the engaging characters coaxed into life by the likes of Idris Elba’s suave, ruthless Shere Khan, Scarlett Johannson’s sexy, sinuously seductive Kaa (the semiotics would suggest that the poor boy’s first brush with a woman is a harbinger of dangers to come), Bill Murray’s world weary, contentment seeking bear, and Christopher Walken, who has turned king Louie into a Wise Guy.
Favreau has updated Disney’s story in a few nice ways: he’s turned Shere Khan into more of a territorial overlord, a despotic jungle ruler and made Kaa female (he felt there were too many men). But he was wise enough to keep two of the most famous songs, seamlessly integrated into the action: Bare Necessities and I Want to be Like You
The standout performance is that of the young Indian New Yorker, Neel Sethi. Can’t imagine what it must be like to act all of this in front of a green screen with nothing to interact with. But young Neel pulls it off magnificently.
So, for a few hours, with this movie, you truly can, as the song urges, “forget about your worries and your strife…”
ALSO OF NOTE:
Writer: Justin Marks; Cinematographer: Bill Pope (Men in Black 3, Spider Man 3); Production Designers: Christopher Glass and Abhijeet Mazumder, Art Directors: Ravi Bansal (Victor Frankenstein), John Lord Both III (Oz, the Great and Powerful), Andrew L Jones (The Adventures of Tin Tin), Mike Stassi (Alice in Wonderland)