Like Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Jon Favreau’s “live action” Jungle Book reboot owes as much (if not more) to Disney’s classic cartoon as it does to the tale’s literary source. Using state of the art CGI environments (very little of what you see is actually “live”) and Life of Pi-style animal animations, this breathes delightful new life into a longstanding family favorite, lending digital depth and a hint of darkness to the familiar anthropomorphic encounters, in the process dispelling all memories of 2003’s ill-conceived Jungle Book 2.
Neel Sethi is terrific as Mowgli, whose frame and stance eerily echo those of his animated predecessor, while Bill Murray and Christopher Walken lend baggy appeal and mobster menace respectively to the vocal roles of Baloo and King Louie. As Shere Khan, Idris Elba scares and terrifies in a beautiful way; as Kaa, Scarlett Johansson seduces though with little screen time.
From the opening chase, it’s clear that we’re not going to be short-changed in terms of running, jumping, swinging, and falling action, but more impressive is the balance between threat and pathos, comedy and peril, which Favreau manages with aplomb. The jungle landscapes are lush and dreamy, veering occasionally into Lord of the Rings darkness, and John Debney’s music revives the snaky mysteries of the original score while adding a 21st-century kick to Mowgli’s journey to manhood. We even get a couple of the old songs, with Richard Sherman penning a few new verses for I Wan’na Be Like You. It all adds up to a hugely likable romp which respects the legacies of both Rudyard Kipling and the House of Mouse, and gives modern audiences ample reason to rejoice in both.
TL;DR: This is an amazing looking movie with a wonderful story and done beautifully. Jon Favreau should be just as proud of this as he should be of Iron Man. Go see it.