Over the past few years, Disney have been giving some of their classic animations live-action adaptations. We've seen Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella and, now, the latest to join the collection is Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book and here's my review of it.

The premise of the film remains faithful and true to the original, animated classic and Rudyard Kipling's classic novel. The story revolves around a young, orphan boy, Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi), who is found by a panther, Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley), and raised by a pack of wolves - led by the alpha-wolf Akela (Giancarlo Espanito) and mother-wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o). Taught the ways of the jungle, Mowgli grows up being treated as a member one of the pack, knowing only this as his home. When a drought hits the land, a truce for peace is made between the animals, until the rain starts again. However, stalking the land is the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who, whilst abiding by the peace, promises to kill Mowgli at the first chance he gets. Fearing for his life, Bagheera takes Mowgli and they head out on a journey of self-discovery (and plenty of mischief and trouble) back to where the boy belongs and can be safe: the human village.

Taking any one of Disney's classic animations and giving it a live-action reimagining, trying to stick close to the original story whilst giving the film it's own identity and individuality and making it good in the process, is an intimidating task, let alone taking what is, arguably, one of their most beloved animations ever. However, that is exactly what director Jon Favreau has done with The Jungle Book. Ever since the first footage was shown back at D23 last year, where the film was described by Favreau as "the most technologically advanced film ever made", I have been excited to see this adaption. I loved the original, 1967 musical and I'm a big fan of Favreau's work too; it quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year. So, it's with great relief and satisfaction that I can say that this film does not disappoint. The Jungle Book is truly incredible. It manages to capture the heart and spirit of the original whilst standing out on its own for its own merits too and it really is an enchanting, beautiful and magical piece of cinema.

Right at the very end of the credits, the words "Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles" appear and just those 4 words capture the ambition of this project; just those 4 words highlight how impressive this film is, visually and technologically. Every detail in this film from the gorgeous, jungle landscape to the wild and bountiful animals inhabiting it, from every tree and flower to every raindrop and every individual fur on these creatures, is not real but is, instead, the creation of computer animation and a very talented, hard-working visual effects team. Everything in this film just looks so real that it's jarring to think that this entire film was shot on a sound stage in L.A. Yet, it's a testament to Favreau's vision and his direction and Justin Marks' screenplay, for having created such an immersive world and story within The Jungle Book; we get so enthralled into everything going on that we forget that what we're looking at is all CG and contrived - everything apart from Sethi as Mowgli, at least. The film is a visual spectacle with its next-level CG. And it's paired brilliantly with some breathtaking 3D effects too. This is the first film since 2009's Avatar in which 3D is a necessity and actually changes the whole film-going experience; enriching the spectacle rather than acting as a cheap gimmick, swallowing us further into this marvellous and immersive jungle and world. In fact, The Jungle Book is arguably the most visually impressive film since James Cameron's blockbuster.
However, despite the flawless effects which create the absolutely gorgeous jungle landscapes and believable talking animals, impressive visuals are not what make a film good. Sure, it helps, but, thankfully, The Jungle Book has a great story and some great characters which give the film some substance and actually make it worth watching. Mark's screenplay is buzzing with energy, so witty and fun, and Favreau's direction only adds to this - bringing all the pieces of this film together. Together, the pair have managed to capture the big, fuzzy heart and buoyant spirit of the original musical and, more importantly, of Kipling's original story that made it so special in the first place. However, compared to the all-too-innocent and feel-good animation, this live-action retelling has a lot more emotion and dramatic integrity to it. We really care for these characters - Mowgli, in particular - and empathise for their situations and we really invest in their stories because of how well written and fully realised they have been. We care even for the animals, which says something seeing as they don't actually exist. There are actually stakes and there's an emotional weight which gives the story so much more weight and depth.

Newcomer Neel Sethi absolutely crushes it in the role as Mowgli. It's hard to imagine that this is only his first time acting. His performance is so innocent and, simply, child-like. His performance is made all the more impressive by the fact that this first-time, child actor is acting in front a green screen, with only puppets to guide him, yet we invest so much into his character and really believe his relationships with the creatures and the jungle around him. The rest of the talented ensemble also give some terrific support too, lending their voices to these aforementioned animals and creatures, the classic and beloved characters of the original - from the bubbly Baloo to the whimsical King Louie. The casting seems as perfect as it could be, frankly. Sir Ben Kingsley is classy as Bagheera; Christopher Walken is all sorts of wonders as King Louie; Scarlett Johannsson is seductive and alluring as the hypnotising python Kaa - albeit if very underused; really only appearing in the scene we all know from the trailers - and Bill Murray is excellent as Baloo, so charismatic and energetic. However, it's Idris Elba that steals the show here, as the fearsome Shere Khan. The powerful tiger makes for one of the most menacing, most terrifying antagonists in a film in some time. His presence sends chills down your back and Elba is so unnerving in the role.

The Jungle Book is not without flaw, however, and, despite all the emotion and depth, the film does take a more conventional approach towards the final act of the film, disposing of all the stakes and making the whole build-up feel a little too redundant. There are also some scenes which feel a little unnecessary and tedious. And, for a Disney film, it's surprisingly dark and scary at times - Elba's Khan and Johannsson's Kaa have the darkest moments - and perhaps not a film I recommend taking very young kids too, I think there are moments which 6 and 7 year-olds may potentially find too gritty and frightening. However, despite these minor complaints I have with the film, it can't take away from the fact that Jon Favreau has given us what is probably one of the best cinematic versions of The Jungle Book we'll ever see. This film is emotional, heartfelt and heart-warming and is just tons and tons of fun: a big, epic, visually gorgeous thrill ride of an adventure. In fact, I'd say that this is one of Disney's live-action films that is better than the original: a modern classic in itself.

Of course, whilst we have this remake from Disney, over at Warner Bros., Andy Serkis is set to retell Kipling's classic novel in Jungle Book: Origins. That film is set to be a darker, gritter reimagining of the story, using motion capture to bring it's characters to life. However, despite an incredible, stellar ensemble, that film has its work seriously cut out for itself if it is to compete with Favreau's version of The Jungle Book because the Iron Man director has created a wild, fun adventure that captures not only the heart ad spirit of the classical musical but also the magic of Disney too. It's a stunning spectacle that will make you feel like a little kid once again, so inspired, wondrous and, for everyone that grew up with the 1967 animation, nostalgic! Oh, and Bill Murray's Bare Necessities and Christopher Walken's rendition of I Wanna Be Like You are simply delightful.

VERDICT:
Visually stunning, emotionally driven and just truly incredible, The Jungle Book is a beautiful, wild and enchanting adventure. Jon Favreau has captured the true heart and spirit of Disney, whilst creating a modern classic in the process.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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