Disney’s live-action version of their classic animation, ‘The Jungle Book’ is a stampede of special effects and Idris Elba makes for a spot-on Shere Khan, but it’s a pity that’s about all it has to offer, says Colum Finnegan
Following up on their recent, fairly dismal but very successful Cinderella remake, Disney has put together a live-action version of The Jungle Book. The 1967 original is a bone fide classic, beloved of almost every child who has seen it, and thus was always going to be hard to ape. So, instead of imitation, Disney and director Jon Favreau decided on a new direction – apparently one more suited to modern and international audiences. In lieu of songs, humour and comic book villains, the new Jungle Book has mantras, life lessons and genuinely terrifying baddies, all rendered in hyper realistic CGI.
The story is tweaked too – Mowgli (patchy newcomer Neel Sethi) is now the son of a man who disfigured tiger Shere Khan (a terrifyingly cool Idris Elba), giving the tiger a modus operandi for wanting the loveable man-cub dead.
Kahn gets a chance to see Mowgli and rekindle his hatred when, after a prolonged drought in the jungle, the animals are forced to call a ‘water truce’ (an agreement to suspend hunting so they can all drink from the last remaining water source). Shere Kahn offers an ultimatum to the wolf family that has raised Mowgli – unless they hand over the boy, he will kill them all. This is the prompt for Bagheera, the wise black panther who originally rescued the baby Mowgli, to try and get the boy back to the village he came from, the only place he will be safe from the murderous tiger.
Thus, the two set out on the dangerous journey, along the way bumping into all manner of creatures, including Scarlett Johansson as hypnotising snake Kaa, Bill Murray as the fun-loving bear Baloo and Christopher Walken as the power crazed monkey, King Louie. This sort of star attraction will be lost on children and suggests that Disney are looking to keep the adults happy too, but unfortunately their very distinctive voices end up detracting from the actual story – instead of Baloo we get Bill Murray, not one who strikes as the most child-friendly of personalities, and a similar feeling is prompted by the other two. It feels less like each of them is voice acting or taking their roles at all seriously; seemingly they were cast to do create pastiches of their own images.
Favreau has also decided to emphasise the more terrifying aspects of the story. Shere Kahn is menacing and cruel, Mowgli’s journey is fraught with very real danger and the violence is guaranteed to terrify more sheltered children. Additionally the overall moral is opaque (spoiler alert!). Mowgli ends up staying in the jungle after setting it on fire and killing Shere Kahn – once evil is defeated it’s back to the status quo, with Mowgli and Billoo Murray living happily ever after.
Ultimately the film has the feeling of a cash cow – resurrect a firm Disney favourite, paste in some stars and expensive CGI, and laugh all the way to the bank. Where Favreau tries to break new ground, he fails – all this film has going for it are its looks. Certainly the animals are breathtakingly realistic, they almost feel real, except the fact that they can talk that is. Favreau and Disney wanted to have their anthropomorphic cake and eat it too, but the end result is incongruous – we have very real looking animals moving their mouths like humans. Frankly, it’s creepy.
All in all, The Jungle Book is a disappointing watch, stripping the heart and humour out of the original and leaving at least one reviewer pining for those bare necessities.
The Jungle Book is released nationwide today, Friday April 15
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