To cite the aesthetic of a film as a huge positive is commonly used by way of a saving grace. Films that aren’t particularly entertaining nor emotive can be rescued from the clutches of failure for merely being ‘nice to look at’. Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book may be lauded as one of the most technically advanced, visually striking cinematic creations of all time, but it manages to do so while never compromising the pathos and emotional investment of the viewer, as a rare slice of cinema that manages to be as breathtakingly profound as it is visually immersive.
This production is a remake of the 1967 Disney animation, as opposed to the original Rudyard Kipling prose. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub, raised by a pack of wolves, and under the wise advisement of the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). He becomes the target of the aggressive tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who seeks payback on the race that scarred his face with the “red flower” (otherwise known as fire). Fleeing the clutches of his guardians, Mowgli sets off into the jungle, where he finds Baloo (Bill Murray), a clumsy bear who takes a liking to this young boy. Enjoying their time together, when Shere Khan dispossesses of Akele (Giancarlo Esposito), Mowgli is lured back into the conflict with revenge on his mind.
Favreau has managed to remain affectionately, and tonally, in-line with the animation so many of us grew up on, infusing nostalgia in the process, and yet remaining a unique, standalone picture in its own right. With a steady blend of motion capture and CGI, the viewer is transported deep into the heart of the jungle, where our suspension is tremendously easy to disbelieve, as we become emotionally embroiled into this familiar narrative. We use the perennial notion of the underdog, of an orphaned young boy on a mission of self-discovery – which has set the precedence for so many of our favourite ever family endeavours. Sethi rises to the role with a terrific display, seeming so vulnerable at times but believably courageous too. He’s surrounded by a plethora of impressive vocal performances too, with Murray in particular bringing a lightness to proceedings. Regrettably, however – and no fault of Christopher Walken – the King Louie section is mis-judged, and represents the only hurdle where this compelling picture falls over. Favreau more than makes up for it however, with a truly indelible sequence between Mowgli and the herd of elephants, with a glorious instrumental version of ‘Bear Necessities’ playing over the top.
Though a family film, there are moments that may frighten the younger members of the audience, particularly in that we aren’t dealing with a mere animation any more, and suddenly Shere Khan’s intimidating presence becomes more patent given we’re dealing with a menacing, imposing tiger who actually seems as though he’d tear our fragile protagonist limb from limb. But any such apprehensions in that department are alleviated by the enchanting closing credits – which you simply have to stick around for.