First things first, 2016 is a great year for movies. With Dawn of Justice and Deadpool already released, not to mention the other great titles we have on the way, I’ve been left salivating by the succulent platter that Hollywood has left at my table.
While looking at the platter, and deciding what part I’m looking forward to eating the most, The Jungle Book could easily be lost amongst the other flavours. Instead, I found that it was one of the strongest parts of the dish.
Disney has never been afraid to take risks. Don’t get me wrong, they can afford to but the decision to make live action versions of their animated classics IS a big risk, especially if a few of them turn out to be flops. Where Alice in Wonderland was underwhelming though, the Jungle Book really captured my imagination and took me back to my childhood.
To sum it up really quickly, they’ve basically taken the animated movie and transferred it to live action and the result is a magical journey through the jungle that gives you some intense feelings of anger, joy and worry.
A large part of that credit should go to the fantastic set of A-listers that have provided the voices to our beloved characters. Bill Murray and Sir Ben Kingsley were inspired choices to play Baloo and Bagheera respectively. Christopher Walken gave King Louie a brilliant mobster-esque edge and Lupita Nyong'o and Giancarlo Esposito were entirely convincing as Mowgli’s adoptive parents, Raksha and Akela.
The only two I struggled with were Scarlett Johansson as Kaa and to a lesser extent Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Kaa doesn’t get a lot of screen time so you never really adapt to the idea of Johansson as the great snake. For all intents and purpose, she does the character justice, but with her being involved in so many projects at the moment, I struggled to see one entity. Instead, I saw a snake and Scarlett Johansson’s voice.
Shere Khan on the other hand, naturally, is a big player. His introduction (about the same length of time that Kaa got in the whole movie) was full of suspense but hearing Idris Elba’s voice come out of the tiger’s mouth was a little odd at first. As the movie progresses however, Elba really starts to bring some menace to the character. You never know when he’s going to do a Kylo Ren and lose control or whether he’s there in the long grass ready to pounce on an unassuming Mowgli.
As for Neel Sethi as Mowgli himself, whilst I found his performance sketchy at points, you have to admire someone that can do a solid job in front of a green screen, especially at such a young age.
For me, before taking my seat, the big question was whether The Jungle Book would find the right balance.
On paper, if you take an animated Disney movie and turn it into live action without changing anything, you’ll end up with a musical. Jon Favreau has done a brilliant job in striking that balance though. He’s managed to keep a few of the classic songs but seamlessly intertwine them with a compelling storyline. Something that’s extremely difficult to do. For instance, I never thought I’d appreciate Christopher Walken’s singing voice but it really works, not to mention the subtle inclusion of Bill Murray singing ‘The Bear Necessities’.
To sum it up, I felt that The Jungle Book had everything. It had the magic of Disney to keep the diehard fans happy, a strong storyline (with strong performances) to keep the critics at bay and enough music and fun to keep the kids entertained.
It’s the perfect Sunday night movie to give you that little lift before you go back to work on Monday and if you don’t leave the cinema humming ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, there’s something seriously wrong with you.