With Cinderella last year and Beauty and the Beast next year, it seems Disney is set on remaking their well-known animated classics into live-action. I along with many others, were sceptical if those stories would work through the change. But Cinderella proved me wrong, so now I’m pretty excited about the new films. The newest film to be adapted is the 1967 The Jungle Book. Does the film still work at nearly 50 years old?
The Jungle Book stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Neel Sethi and is directed by Jon Favreau. Based on the books by Rudyard Kipling, the film follows young child Mowgli (Sethi) as he has to leave the jungle for fear that tiger Shere Khan (Elba) will kill him.
First off, the animation is superb. While I talked about the attention to detail in Disney’s earlier Zootropolis, it was mainly cartoon versions of animals. Here it’s more like a nature documentary. The animals of the jungle howl and roar and they stalk their prey through the forest with an amazing sense of realism. The environments help. They look photo-realistic and the CGI creations merge with the live-action sections of the film.
The cast is what makes it though. Several strong voices, each giving a top performance. They are so many more than the ones I’ve listed already, Scarlett Johansson (as the now female Kaa, who isn’t in it as long as the original), Christopher Walken as King Louis and Giancarlo Esposito as Akela. Even original Spiderman director Sam Raimi gets a small cameo. It’s a great list and it gets you invested in the film. You don’t care that animals are talking, because they sell the hell out of it. I wasn’t too impressed with Neel Sethi as Mowgli, (he’s better than most child actors, but that isn’t saying much) but seeing as it’s his first film I feel like going easy on him.
The film obviously has to tip it’s hat to the original 1967 version, but it’s in these moments that it lost me. Sure the songs are what have kept the film a well-loved classic for so long, but they feel out of place here. Christopher Walken’s rendition is laughably awful (while adding new lyrics) and Murray and Sethi’s version of Bare Necessities doesn’t have anything on the original. It works a lot better when it deviates from the first film. Kaa’s new version of hypnosis is clever update of the 60s psychedelic wavy lines, and the new design King Louis, as a 12-foot gigantopithecus (a now extinct type of ape) is a sight to behold; he’s no longer the swinging and jiving jazz singer we knew. Hands down, the build up and reveal of the Ape King, as well as the following action scene around his palace is one of the best scenes in the film and will become a standout of Disney’s catalogue. And no, there are no vultures bearing similarities to a certain Liverpool band in this version.
The film as moved from a U rating to a PG. I guess it comes with the territory, with the more life-like creatures and with fighting being a major theme of the story, The Jungle Book is skewing to a much more darker sense. The violence is mostly off-screen or is hidden, but the tone is less child-friendly than the 1967 version. The man-hating Shere Khan (who Idris Elba gives a great sense of menace) has an evil presence over the film, as well as the entire King Louis section, it has a much more intense feel than the original. If you are worried whether you kid will be scared by the prospect of a realistic tiger jumping at them, have a look at the trailer. The trailer does a good job of setting the general tone of the film. If you think that they can deal with it then go for it. Just be prepared for angry tigers and panthers jumping at the camera.
Score: 9/10 A great adaptation and remake that changes the feel for the better.