Announcing plans to remake nine more live-action films in the very near future, along with Disney’s less-than-stellar record in this department, like many cinemagoers, I was slightly anxious to see director Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s stories. Already an uphill battle, similar to all of Disney’s live-action remakes, Favreau has a beloved animated predecessor to contend with, in the form of Wolfgang Reitherman’s 1967 classic.
Unbelievably, the entire film was shot in studios in Los Angeles but instead of synthetic and hollow looking environments, we get immersive and dynamic landscapes, that give the CGI work in films such as Avatar and Life of Pi a run for their money.
Along with the impressive technological achievements, brilliant voice casting breathes life into familiar characters. Ben Kingsley is a wise Bagheera, while Bill Murray brings his pitch-perfect comedy to the role of Baloo. Scarlett Johansson offers her seducing tone to voice Kaa and Christopher Walken is his trademark offbeat self as he voices King Louie. Idris Elba is most striking, though, as Shere Khan, he’s menacing to both adults and children. Neel Sethi as Mowgli is the only physical performance and the young actor is wonderful to watch, made all the more impressive as he had to act against a green screen in his feature film debut.
Favreau’s version focuses on other aspects that were missing from Reitherman’s film, such as the “water truce” and is an overall darker affair, but remains fun in places with favourite songs such as The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You both included.
The Jungle Book is a rare remake that serves a purpose, respecting the source material and featuring enough of what audiences responded to the first time around, but brings new elements to the table and offers a fresh, new tone. I may not be sold on Disney remaking all of my childhood favourites, but The Jungle Book is certainly a success story.