THE JUNGLE BOOK
Direction: Jon Favreau
Voices: Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Neel Sethi
Rudyard Kipling’s beloved and much-filmed story gets a new millennium makeover in the latest iteration of The Jungle Book.
Adroitly blending live-action with digital razzmatazz, director Jon Favreau (the first two Iron Man films) has crafted a high-flying adventure teeming with all manner of anthropomorphic animals.
The familiar tale follows Mowgli, the orphaned jungle boy (newcomer Neel Sethi, chosen from thousands of candidates who auditioned for the part), on his epic coming-of-age journey.
Abandoned as a child and raised in the wilderness by a pack of wolves, the ‘man-cub’ is the sole human character in the film.
His carefree existence is shattered by the arrival of a vendetta-seeking tiger (dubbed in fearsome tones by Elba) intent on disrupting the peace in the animal kingdom.
Mowgli’s already-slim chances of getting out of the jungle alive receive further setbacks following encounters with a smooth-talking python (Scarlett Johansson) and an outlandish orangutan (Chistopher Walken).
Fortunately for the youngster, a sympathetic panther (Ben Kingsley) and an easy-going bear (Murray, in gleeful vocal form) are around to ensure his well-being and safety.
Capitalising on the advances in visual effects and motion-capture technology, Favreau conjures up a wondrous spectacle anchored around relatable human emotions.
In one particularly poignant interlude Mowgli saves a baby elephant that has fallen into a pit. The rescue lends resonance to an earlier scene in which the little elephant stares intently at Mowgli when their paths first cross. It’s almost as if both boy and beast sensed that they would connect again at a later point in the narrative.
The lush imagery of flora and fauna (courtesy The Matrix and Spider-Man cinematographer Bill Pope) and the wonderful gallery of photo-real animals who can converse should appeal to legions of fans of Kipling’s fiction, as well as new converts.
On the downside, the tiger’s frequent lunging for Mowgli may well have small children watching through their fingers.
Also, although there are snatches of popular tunes such as ’The bare necessities’ and ’I wannabe like you’, the soundtrack doesn’t compare favourably with the classic Disney cartoon of 1967.
Expectedly, the film has been dubbed in several Indian languages, including of course, Hindi. The latter version is buoyed by A-list Bollywood voice talent, notably Priyanka Chopra (the python), Nana Patekar (the tiger), and best of all, the ever-versatile Irrfan Khan (the honey bear).
Unfortunately, Jasleen Singh, who voices Mowgli in Hindi, doesn’t measure up to the high standards set by her colleagues.
No matter the version, though, the Jungle Book is guaranteed to provide slam-bang fun.