We’ve all hummed or sung parts of the Bare Necessities from time to time, we know the names Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera, we remember heckling vultures, elephants marching in lines and jazz dancing monkeys. 1967’s The Jungle Book is a film we have all seen and have fond memories of, we know this story so why would a modern remake hold any interest to us?
Because the best stories are the stories you can hear again and again and never tire of especially when the storyteller is as talented as Jon Favreau. Like last years Cinderella brought new life to that classic fairytale, Disney and director Jon Favreau bring back The Jungle Book in such an amazing fashion, reliving the classic tale feels brand new. First of all the “Jungle” is an extraordinary achievement of technical filmmaking, I knew going into the film that everything was filmed in a green screen warehouse in Los Angeles but the moment the film kicks off you’re right into the jungle. I remember certain parts of the movie where I was thinking “Well obviously the animals are CGI but they actually filmed this in the jungle” It looks that good and the film showcases many different environments and brings new elements of terror and fear to the story.
This isn’t a straight shot to shot remake, Favreau and his team add new elements to the story so this film isn’t just recreation but reinvention. Small elements of the original are brought back and give new weight to the story, the bumbling military elephants are now seen as grand, majestic leaders within the jungle, more in line with Rudyard Kipling’s original story. The heckling vultures now are the sirens for the arrival of the villainous Shere Khan, also pieces of Kipling’s stories being introduced for the first time such as the late Garry Shandling voicing the porcupine Ikki. There is also a greater focus on the laws of the jungle, Mowgli’s relationship with the wolves Raksha and Akela, and how Mowgli’s presence in the jungle is a danger to everyone, these themes allow Favreau to inject some powerful drama especially into the third act of the film.
This film didn’t just grab my attention because of its impressive visual effects, the jungle is only as powerful as the animals that inhabit it and Disney brings the best talent to the voices of The Jungle Book. It’s A list from top to bottom, Bill Murray is Baloo, Sir Ben Kingsley is Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson is the snake Kaa, Lupita N’yongo and Giancarlo Esposito are the wolves Raksha and Akela and Christopher Walken himself is King Louie, who has been reimagined as the mighty Gigantopithecus. It’s a perfect cast, every actor brings such life to their character and there isn’t a weak moment in their performances only in their utilisation. Johansson’s Kaa is only the film for one scene but it’s a hell of scene that leaves you wanting more but leaves you disappointed when the snake never returns.
Murray and Kingsley’s dynamic of Baloo and Baheera are fantastic, playing off each other and Neel Sethi’s Mowgli effortlessly with Murray’s Baloo being responsible for most of the film’s best laughs. N’yongo and Esposito bring a real emotional gravitas to characters that aren’t as iconic as the rest but elevate them to that status by film’s end. Finally, Elba and Walken bring the fear as their villains own the screen with every moment they have, Shere Khan and King Louie are the type of bad guys that will scare your kids. When Mowgli faces against them, there is a legitimate danger for the young man cub.
But despite the A-List talent behind this project, it is the man cub who steals the show from every last one. Neel Sethi as Mowgli makes this movie, he’s the only piece of the film that is live action throughout and Favreau clearly knew that without the right actor in that role, none of the voice talent would matter. The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli, and Sethi portrays him as a bright, adventurous child whose journey isn’t just set piece to set piece of famous actor voicing animals but of a child accepting who he really is.
The music of The Jungle Book is one of its most famous factors as mentioned before, composer John Debney does a fantastic job of utilising all the old music and making a brand new score that hits you with nostalgia and excitement. Plus the songs make a return, while Favreau’s vision is more of an adventure drama than a musical, the use of the iconic songs “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You” really shows the Mowgli and the audience the more peculiar aspects of the jungle.
Favreau’s direction of the vocal talent, visuals and music is all in service of taking audiences back to that magic The Jungle Book brought to so many people and showing brand new audiences why this story is so special to so many people. So while we all know the story so certain elements aren’t a surprise however that knowledge never detracts from the magic of the film. This film is a creative, fun-filled adventure with the right amount of nostalgia to make it great for all audiences.
Seriously, Christopher Walken sings the King Louie song and it’s the best thing ever.