Everyone has their favourite Disney film. There are so many to choose from - 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Mary Poppins', 'Peter Pan', 'Robin Hood' - but one that always seems to sneak onto top ten lists is 'The Jungle Book'. Perhaps that's because of its dream-like quality; one's desire to leave the hustle and bustle behind and return to the wilderness, with wolves, panthers and bears as your best friends. It therefore comes as no surprise that Disney has chosen to revisit the story on the big screen - this time, tackling the tale with live action.
Man-cub Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) has been brought up by a pack of wolves in the jungle, after being saved by the paternal panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). When terrifying tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) sniffs out the human scent, he vows to kill the boy. Making his escape, Mowgli befriends Baloo (Bill Murray) - but his life is still at risk, as Shere Khan stops at nothing to see Mowgli's demise.
I'll be honest - it's a little jarring to see these realistic, wild animals talking on screen. Unlike animation, which allows for a little more suspension of disbelief, this live action reimagining takes some getting used to. In director Jon Favreau ('Chef') and his team's defence, this speaks volumes for the cinematography and special effects employed for the vast majority of characters. Everything looks stunning, from the jungle itself to the emotion in the animal's faces, no detail has been spared. The use of 3D is also restrained, meaning it's there to amplify depth and perception rather than for showy effects.
There are two other important elements to this story - the first being the casting of Mowgli. In 12-year-old Neel Sethi, they have uncovered a child actor who carries this film on his shoulders. He's charismatic without being cocky, and doesn't flinch about acting alongside an entirely animated cast. Also vital are the voices of the animals who inhabit this film, all of which are suited to perfection. Idris Elba wlil send shivers up your spine as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley pulls off the protective panther to perfection, Scarlett Johansson slithers into the role of sinister snake Kaa, and Lupita Nyong'o shows off her maternal instincts as Mowgli's wolf mother Raksha. It also seems Bill Murray and Christopher Walken were destined to play a bear and an oversized orangutan respectively; watching them, it's impossible to think of anyone else voicing these parts.
This might sound worlds away from Disney's 1967 version of the film, and yet there are some similarities. In another move which causes further friction between the über-reality of the film's visuals and the surrealism of the story... we have the musical numbers. It was decided that 'Bear Necessities' and 'I Wanna Be Like You' from the original film should remain intact. While I can vaguely see how 'Bear Necessities' works in with Baloo's character, and can be put down to a laid-back, carefree piece of fun, the placement of 'I Wanna Be Like You' is considerably more jarring with the flow of the film. Overall, this is a much darker movie, with some genuine moments of trepidation, so perhaps the musical element was a decision to keep the tone lighter for the kids. Unfortunately, I simply don't think it worked for them.
It's a little jarring to see these realistic, wild animals talking on screen. This live action reimagining takes some getting used to.
This isn't the first Disney remake to hit the big screen, and it certainly won't be the last. The true test is whether the new version of the story surpasses the original. So did 'The Jungle Book' succeed in that regard? I think so. There's a lot of positive elements to this reimagining. However, I feel the darker, more realistic tone may work against it, and that even with a PG rating may be a little too much for some of the younger viewers. But why not take a walk on the wild side, and witness 'The Jungle Book' in a whole new light.