With the Disney live action remake train moving along at full steam, I thought it was about time for me to finally watch Jon Favreau’s 2016 re-imagining of the beloved 1967 classic. Which you all surely know the plot of, so I’ll move swiftly on.
The film won an Academy Award for its visual effects and, though Kubo and the Two Strings was also highly deserving, it was a rightful win as the design of The Jungle Book is immaculate, flawless and gorgeous. The animals are perfectly, lovingly created, they manage to emote particularly well and are constantly wonderful to watch. Plus, the design of the jungle environment is spectacular and the opening freerunning sequence effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Elsewhere, the cast are all great; Ben Kingsley puts in a dignified, authoritative performance as Bagheera, Bill Murray is tons of fun as jungle bum Baloo and Christopher Walken has a ball channelling his inner mob boss as gigantopithecus King Louie, proving that he’s also an entertaining song and dance man. Neel Sethi is also a likeable Mowgli, probably more so than the original incarnation, and interacts with all the CGI perfectly – the power of a child’s imagination, eh? However, casting Scarlett Johansson as Kaa was a misguided decision as she just doesn’t sound right. Plus, she’s pretty much wasted in a role that only serves as plot exposition; maybe Favreau just wanted to give a part to his ol’ pal Black Widow . . .
As the Disney “re-imaginings” keep coming, there’s always the question of whether there’s any point and whether the classics should be left alone. This incarnation of The Jungle Book though has definite purpose and meaning as it isn’t just a carbon copy of the original and successfully modernises the story for a 21st century audience. Rather than appearing as a cash-grab, this film feels thoroughly new, original and fresh while never forgetting its original counterpart or Rudyard Kipling’s original tale. There is perhaps only a single recognisable line of dialogue from the 1967 film (They’ll ruin him! They’ll make a man out of him!) and, in a very wise move, only includes the most memorable songs: “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You”. Plus, the film opens with an old-school style Disney castle, the classic “book on velvet cloth” opening, which also closes the film to a tremendously modern effect, and the instantly recognisable opening score of the original film.
All of which leads me to wonder what there is left that Andy Serkis’ 2018 version can bring to the table. I mean, this incarnation only has the basic structure and characters of the Disney film but it genuinely feels as though there is plenty of material taken from the original Kipling, which is what Serkis’ version is promising more of. I’m sure that there’s more material to be taken from Kipling’s book but this film has set such a high standard that I’m worried that Serkis and co. will seem like Johnny-come-latleys. Still, with a cast that includes Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett, I’m not complaining!
In short, 2016’s The Jungle Book is what a Disney remake should be. It includes enough gentle references to the 1967 film, includes much more of what Kipling wrote (I’m assuming) and is fresh, entertaining, modern and, most importantly, it has genuine reason to exist. Jon Favreau has once again proved that he is an incredibly capable director; he perfectly balances humour and danger and knows exactly what material to leave out and what new things he should add.
The Lion King is in safe hands.