For some, The Jungle Book inspires fond memories of pouring over Rudyard Kipling's stories. For many others, the 1967 animated film springs to mind. But whichever one you think of first, they're both covered in the new live-action take on the tale. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), consider this latest version a best-of package fans of each might have hoped for.
It's no easy feat, balancing the darker material seen on the page while still embracing the fun and amusement experienced in the cartoon. But Favreau and company certainly don't shy away from a challenge. Indeed, from the moment the introductory Disney logo gives way to a zoom back through intricately rendered wildlife, The Jungle Book's ambitions are clear. The first frames of the film look so authentic that audiences might just have to resist the urge to reach out and touch them.
Of course, viewers aren't the only ones steeped in such a striking environment. On screen, man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has spent his entire childhood in the jungle. Found as a baby by wise panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), and raised by wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), he's happy and at home in the animal kingdom. But tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) has murder on his mind. To keep Mowgli safe, Bagheera endeavours to escort the boy to the nearest human settlement, a trek that intersects with seductive snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), laid-back bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and giant primate King Louie (Christopher Walken).
As Mowgli's story deepens, so does The Jungle Book's aesthetic wizardry. The film's hordes of special effects experts haven't just made every swinging vine, stream of water and glimmering ray of sunshine look just like the real thing; they've made the talking animals seem believable as well. Using 3D to add depth within the frame further enhances the sense of photo-realism, as does the seamless blend of Sethi's performance with his motion-captured creature counterparts. In fact, believing that the entire feature was filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles, and not on location, is practically impossible.
Appearing the part isn't just crucial as far as the entire concept is concerned. It also helps the narrative, episodic as it may be, glide along. It also ensures that when a bear starts singing with the voice of Murray, or a snake's hissing sounds like Johansson, it feels fitting. Favreau understands the need to use everything at his disposal to immerse audiences in another world, be it a rousing score sprinkled with a few familiar tunes, or a fresh face who embodies a winning sense of adventure. Accordingly, when it comes to turning The Jungle Book into a live-action spectacular, his engaging attempt more than covers the bare necessities. And of course, it'll get that catchy track stuck in your head too.