Movie review: The Jungle Book

jungle-book-2016-trailers-bare-necessitiesLet’s just make things clear: despite the name, this isn’t a book, it is a film. Nor is it the famous Disney cartoon, the one you probably saw first as a child and doubtless have fond memories of. It also isn’t the forthcoming one with Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch in either. That’s Jungle Book: Origins due out in 2018. Finally, it isn’t the now largely forgotten 1994 live action version. But I doubt you ever thought it was anyway: It is largely forgotten.
This one is a live action film starring Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, Nelson Mandela, the Black Widow from The Avengers and Mahatma Gandhi. Mowgli is clearly intended to remind you of the cartoon one with his orange pants and big dark hair but is actually played by a real boy, the excellent Neel Sethi. As in Babe though, the animals are real but have been granted the power of speech by magic.
Although they are mostly celebrity voices, I couldn’t identify most of them when I saw the film so was not too distracted by this. Mowgli is raised by wolves after his father was killed by the evil tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). The animal pursues the boy throughout occasionally leaping out at him unexpectedly like Richard Parker in Life of Pi. He is much scarier than the 1960s George Sanders version. His face actually looks evil. He is more like the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park than Tony from the Frosties adverts. Who would have thought a lethal man-eating predator could be imbued with such a sense of menace?
(That said, the first two lines of Blake’s famous poem literally come true at one point. Spoiler over.)
Mowgli moves from the care of panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to the amiable bear Baloo (Murray). Note to children: bears and panthers are often quite dangerous in real life too. Scarlett Johansson voices the apparently telepathic snake Kaa. And yes, two songs from the old cartoon do crop up, just when you’re starting to miss them.
Only Christopher Walken whose King Louis comes across as a sort of cross between King Kong and Marlon Brando’s character at the end of Apocalypse Now strikes a false note. Have you spoken to any six year olds lately? Much of their cinema knowledge is pathetic. Many haven’t even seen Batman Returns let alone Heaven’s Gate or The Deer Hunter. Very few of them know who Christopher Walken is so his weird speech patterns are just distracting. Maybe he does want to talk like you hoo hoo but the fact is he speaks like no one else on Earth.
Is this a good family film? Yes. But it never let’s you forget the cartoon version. And, to be honest, that was better than this.

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