The Jungle Book (4 stars)

The Jungle Book

Terrific retelling of Kipling’s tales from director Jon Favreau, with an all-star voice cast

With his jaw-dropping version of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved anthology The Jungle Book, which tells the story of young, abandoned orphan Mowgli who has been raised by wolves, director Jon Favreau has achieved the near impossible, managing to stay true to both Kipling’s tales and Disney’s revered 1967 animation, while offering something entirely new.

Most obviously, that comes in the form of the stunning technology on display. Approaching this animal-centric tale as if it were live-action and employing staggering amounts of CGI is an audacious move, and one that could have floundered in ‘uncanny valley’ territory, but it’s virtually flawless. The set-pieces, including a simian chase through a ruined temple, are nothing short of jaw-dropping, and nowhere is the level of talent more on display than with tiger villain Shere Khan. Entirely computer generated, he prowls the landscape with bestial authority and, given malevolent voice by Idris Elba, is genuinely terrifying to behold.

Indeed, the spot-on voice cast all imbue their characters with depth and believability. Alongside Elba, there’s a seductive Scarlett Johansson as hypnotic python Kaa, Ben Kingsley as wise panther Bagheera, Bill Murray as wisecracking bear Baloo, and Lupita Nyong’o as the man-cub’s dignified wolf mother Raksha. Stealing the show entirely is Christopher Walken, channelling Brando as don-like Gigantopithecus King Louie. And, as Mowgli – the only human on screen – endearing newcomer Neel Sethi holds his own, both against his CG co-stars and the dark themes being explored.

Most importantly of all, however, Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks have ensured all this style doesn’t come at the expense of substance. The story has such heart, soul and spirit that the SFX augments, rather than overshadows, the narrative. It all adds up to a genuine feel-good delight, from a filmmaker confirming his status as king of the Swingers.

General release from Fri 15 Apr.

The Jungle Book

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Jon Favreau
  • Written by: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling
  • Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
  • UK release: 15 April 2016

You know the story: boy (Sethi) left in woods, adopted by wolves (Nyong'o and Esposito), mentored by panther (Kingsley), befriended by bear (Murray), hunted by tiger (Elba, terrifying). Favreau and his team successfully retool the story with stunning CGI, and a script with heart, soul and spirit. A feelgood delight.