Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken
Run Time: 106 mins
Jon Favreau’s interpretation of ‘The Jungle Book’ is one of two cinematic offerings of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 work and a live-action remake of the 1967 Disney musical. The other is another live-action film that will feature Andy Serkis in his directorial debut. Favreau’s version uses photorealist rendering to create the settings in combination with motion capture and CGI, which the trailers seem to suggest that this film is a visual treat. Neel Sethi, a newcomer to the industry who plays Mowgli is the only live-action actor here and he is supported by a supporting voice cast, filled with great actors. The film has received near unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike and according to statistics, looks to be one of the best films of the year.
‘The Jungle Book’ is an efficient and an often enthralling film that has a lot of heart but it does come across as rather straightforward and workmanlike in places. It is a visual treat and a benchmark for what CGI allows filmmakers to create. The film also has some stunning casting, in particular with Idris Elba, Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley as one would expect. I know the film has received extremely high praise from critics and audiences alike and I wholeheartedly agree that it is much better than the trailers but I do feel it is a little overrated.
Visually, ‘The Jungle Book’ is a masterpiece and it’s astonishing to imagine how the entire film was virtually filmed in a studio in Los Angeles with Neel Sethi mainly on-stage himself being filmed with the rest of the cast recording their voices later on down the line. There are many outstanding action sequences, particularly when Mowgli flees the jungle that is stunning to behold. The visual effects alone are worth the price of admission. Andy Serkis’ upcoming interpretation is due for release in 2018 and with Serkis as a visual expert, it will be interesting to see how his film visually differs to Favreau’s.
The voice cast are also wonderful, with Elba, Murray and Kingsley being the standouts. Idris Elba voices one of the most memorable villains of recent year, Shere Khan who is extremely menacing and conniving. Bill Murray as Baloo and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera are also as expected, wonderful here and the chemistry between them and Sethi is beautiful to behold. It’s perfect casting and one that will be very hard to top. In Serkis’ version, Christian Bale will be voicing Bagheera and Andy Serkis will voice Baloo. Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli can’t quite pull off all the emotional hooks needed here, but it’s a mostly competent performance. Christopher Walken is competent here too but can’t manage the musical numbers and Scarlett Johansson is sadly wasted in a small role.
One of Favreau’s main challenges is how to satisfy audiences who loved the musical numbers of the Disney animated version. The film is devoid of any songs until Baloo enters the frame and it’s very impressive how he manages to break into song so naturally after his character develops. However, as mentioned Walken can’t sing and it’s oddly jarring in what is generally a fairly serious film and brings the film down.
In terms of the film’s run time, Favreau could very easily have gone on to make a 150 minute epic with a slow pace which he hasn’t done. Instead it runs at a very economical 106 minutes but I think it is a little short as this has meant a lack of character development at some points and I was consciously aware that Favreau seems to be working for a checklist, albeit a very good one. I think if another 15 minutes were added to flesh out the opening and help the audience to sympathise with Shere Khan a little more and perhaps also if Favreau had extended the period between Mowgli being driven out of the jungle and finding Baloo as Johansson’s slippery Kaa is completely wasted.
Overall, I was very impressed with ‘The Jungle Book’ visually and in terms of its performances. It’s got a lot of heart, as Favreau has proved time and time again he is capable of doing and there are some breathtaking action sequences. However, it is not without its problems and I think the pacing is a little too efficient and the film isn’t as strong in its second half as it is in its first. It is overrated but I did really enjoy the film albeit with some reservations. It’ll be interesting to see how Andy Serkis tackles this story in his 2018 imagining and to those who thinks he has no chance in topping this, it’ll be a tough job but one that given the right approach could very well better this. This is still great fun and gets many of the key components spot-on and Favreau’s profile will hopefully be further elevated in the film industry. However, I hope he doesn’t just get given big-budget films as 2014’s ‘Chef’ is his best work yet and is undoubtedly more fun and has a warmer heart than this. Go check it out.