********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: Jon Favreau
Actors: Neel Sethi, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray
American author Rudyard Kipling first took us into the deep dark jungles of India back in the 19th century. While he gave us a scare with the howling wolves, the observing panther, the prowling tiger, he gave the movie its heart with a little boy. An orphan, raised in the jungle, who went by the name of Mowgli. More than a century has gone by, but Mowgli’s story still leaves us captivated. It was Disney which brought a fantastic movie adaptation of Kipling’s tale in 1967 in an animated form. And it is Disney now which does complete justice once more to Kipling’s world with a live-action adaptation in 2016.
The Jungle Book by Jon Favreau does not try to mess around too much with Mowgli’s tale as we know it. But it still looks like a masterpiece because of the perfect pacing of each scene which makes it difficult to look away for even a second. Screenplay by Justin Marks works because of the straightforwardness with which it approaches the core theme of the movie, that of a young boy escaping a ferocious tiger. Right from very early on in the movie, the tiger Shere Khan’s hunger to get to Mowgli, who has been raised in the forest by a pack of wolves and his guardian black panther Bagheera, starts to catch our attention. Bagheera decides that Mowgli can only be safe with his own kind now, and from thereon is Mowgli’s adventure across the jungle, an adventure not only to escape Shere Khan’s clutches, but also to discover himself. In this journey, Justin Marks and director Jon Favreau make us love Mowgli, enjoy his antics, admire his courage, and by the time he has to battle Shere Khan, we are there, standing beside him.
Jon Favreau brings his experience of the Iron Man movies (first two of the series were directed by him) that were rich in special effects. More importantly, he gets a key aspect right which also worked with Iron Man – he lets his hero standout and appeal to the audience while at the same time wow-ing everyone with its visual effects. The Jungle Book has absolutely amazing visual effects, have no doubt about it, with one of the best combinations of cinematography and CGI, especially eye-popping in the Imax format. And yet, Mowgli, the only non-CGI character of the movie, is never lost or forgotten in the grandiose that visual effects can create. While Jon Favreau perfectly places Mowgli in each scene to make him all the more adorable, actor Neel Sethi charms as the young kid. He looks the part, a teeny tiny kid who loves the forest, and carries the innocence that Kipling’s Mowgli had. But the courage that Mowgli shows with his actions as the movie progresses is where Neel Sethi will truly win you over in an admirable performance for a debutant kid.
The rest of the cast voice the various characters of the movies and there is no dearth of experience amongst them. The voices seem to belong to each one of these animals, it’s such a perfect casting. And Idris Elba above all, oh boy, what a Shere Khan he makes! The growling voice of the tiger is rich and ferocious, hypnotizing and haunting, a beast that you would want to be as far away from as possible. The tiger has been given a terrifying look, especially with those long teeth that reminded me of a saber-tooth, but the real terror comes from Idris Elba’s modulation of the tone that will stay with you even when the movie ends. As opposed to that, Ben Kingsley voices Bagheera with a calmness that soothes our hearts, a maturity which comes from experience. Bill Murray is fantastic as the bear Baloo, bringing in the humourous elements that add a new dimension to the movie, building a bond with Mowgli that was such a big highlight of the 1967 movie. Scarlett Johansson as the snake Kaa and Christopher Walken as the orangutan-resembling Louie have relatively briefer roles but memorable ones, as the silky hypnotizing voice of Johansson and the charismatic unmistakable tone of Walken bring a freshness to the movie and open up new angles to explore. Lupita Nyong’o as the wolf-mother Raksha and Giancarlo Esposito as the wolf-leader Akela round up one of the best casting you will get to hear this year.
The Jungle Book will be talked about a lot for its visual effects, and rightly so, because the quality of CGI and motion-capture effects used in this film, even by today’s high standards, are breath-taking and showcase the heights Hollywood has achieved in these fields. But make no mistake, this is not the sole reason what makes the movie such a joy to watch. It is Jon Favreau’s passion to tell an endearing story and the brilliance of the cast which truly make The Jungle Book a marvel. Whether you are a kid or not, this is an adventure worth being a part of!