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Film review: The Jungle Book – Disney’s live-action remake brings awe and wonder

An immersive action adventure that improves upon the animated original, and with a spot-on cast, Jon Favreau’s film is by turns exhilarating and terrifying, and delivers top-class family entertainment

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 11:57am

4.5/5 stars

It was hard not to be sceptical about Disney’s decision to turn its hand-drawn 1967 cartoon into a nominally live-action but mostly computer-generated revival of Rudyard Kipling’s jungle stories. But unlike Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which merely gave human faces to an old-fashioned fairy tale, Jon Favreau’s 3D update of The Jungle Book turns out to be a visually immersive action adventure that has, surprisingly, also improved on the animated classic upon which it is based.

Everything was digitally rendered with Life of Pi-level precision in downtown Los Angeles, and the film’s sole real-life component is the newcomer Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli as a spirited and resourceful man-cub raised in the wild since he lost his human father years ago. Well loved by his wolf mother Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and adeptly schooled by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) in the ways of the world, Mowgli is safe and happy in his adoptive home in the Indian jungle.

How Jungle Book director Jon Favreau updated Kipling’s classic for 21st century

Then a drought brings a truce to all the species except the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who reveals his grudge against Mowgli and demands his swift surrender in exchange for the wolf pack’s safety. Although he’s sent on a journey to escape the jungle and return to a human village, meeting an eclectic array of species along his way, Mowgli will soon learn of the damage that Shere Khan has done and fight back with his tool-making intelligence.

The voice cast – also counting Bill Murray as slacker bear Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as seductive python Kaa, and Christopher Walken as the Apocalypse Now-inspired gigantopithecus King Louie – is pitch-perfect. Alternately exhilarating and terrifying, The Jungle Book offers a hyper-realistic view of the forest as a place of natural hierarchy, unpredictable menace, and cross-species camaraderie. Throw in a joyful rendition of The Bare Necessities, and you have family entertainment of the highest order.

The Jungle Book opens on May 26

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