If you’re over the age of 30, you probably have fond memories of the original Jungle Book film. Though it was released in 1967, I remember it being a regular fixture on TV, especially at Christmas time in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s a perfect example of a Disney film made before CGI came to the fore.
Charming, funny and full of likability, it’s one of the few films that has stood the test of time over the years in my family home, avoiding car boot sales and donations to the charity shop. Based on the collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, it’s no wonder that The Jungle Book has so much going for it. Such classics benefit from a certain x-factor that keeps them in our hearts for a long time. A live action remake was first attempted back in 1994, and although it was received positively, it was criticised for being made more as an action film and not sticking to Kipling’s story. Now, nearly fifty years since the original animated film, Jon Favreau directs a live-action remake with an all-star voice cast. So, can it maintain the sweetness of the original whilst defining its own version of the classic tale?
If you’re not familiar with The Jungle Book, it features a little boy named Mowgli who has been raised since an infant by wolves in the jungle. Befriended by the panther Bagheera who found him and brought him to the wolves, he has only ever known the life of living in the wild with animals. However, when a man-eating Bengal tiger called Shere Khan returns to the jungle and vows to eat Mowgli, seeing no other choice, Bagheera volunteers to take him to the ‘Man Village’ on the edge of the jungle for him to be kept safe. Along the way, he also meets Baloo, a fun-loving bear who promises to raise Mowgli in the jungle.
Where the 1967 film triumphed was in the fun charm and memorable soundtrack. Being animated, the concept of a small boy who holds conversations with various different animals fit perfectly with the theme and feel of the movie. It’s awash with excellent voice actors and superb storytelling that make it a joy to watch. The 2016 remake has naturally updated things by having a slightly more serious tone, but with a PG rating, it’s still fundamentally aimed at children. Its $175 million budget has been well spent on making sure that the visual effects used to create the animals ensure a sense of realism down to every last strand of fur and every wrinkle on all the animal faces. The various set pieces of them running through the jungle and looking out over cliff tops really are a feast for the eyes – excellent for future UHD Blu-ray demos methinks! Casting wise, there’s a lot of talent on show, with Idris Elba voicing tiger Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as panther Bagheera and the ever loveable Bill Murray as Baloo. Scarlett Johannson makes a cameo as the seductive snake Kaa, and Christopher Walken is brilliant as orangutan King Louie. Sadly, the film is the last performance of comedian Garry Shandling, though as a porcupine he has some funny lines. As the only main character who’s human, Neel Sethi does an admirable job as Mowgli in his film debut.
I have to admit that before watching the film, I was sceptical that a live action remake that was true to the original would be any good but it looks as though the cast and crew have just about pulled it off. Memorable songs The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like you return and are well mixed in with the new musical score, and the jungle setting is simply stunning to watch. Idris Elba with his London accent perhaps wasn’t totally suited to an Indian tiger but he still manages to instil the menacing quality that the character needs. The real star, however, is Bill Murray as Baloo, as it’s when Mowgli meets the bear that the film comes alive. He’s got all the best dialogue and is so quintessentially loveable as the big roly-poly bear that he puts everyone else in the shade.
Though it seems not to have quite the same sweetness and charm of the 1967 original, Jon Favreau‘s remake ticks pretty much all the boxes in trying to introduce a new generation to one of Rudyard Kipling‘s best stories.
Author – Steve, Bristol store