Did we need a new live action version of Disney’s beloved 1967 cartoon? Probably not, but Disney are remaking all their old animated classics for the CGI age, and with Jon Favreau at the helm, this computerised menagerie is a truly amazing feat.
I don’t need to tell you the story – Mowgli is the only human (played by cute, Indian-American 12 year old Neel Sethi), being sent back to the man village to avoid Shere Khan the Tiger (Idris Elba, doing it a bit Hackney).
What this version has is perhaps a bit more Kipling with themes of solidarity (the wolf pack) and mans’ place in the environment – Mowgli’s innate human ingenuity – his “tricks” – is mistrusted by the animals, as well as desired (the red flower of fire destroys as well as gives warmth and light) and, on occasions, admired.
Yes, there are songs, just the two best ones – Bear Necessities, delivered with lazy off-beat charm by Bill Murray’s Baloo, and King Louie’s classic (Christopher Walken as a cross of Brando’s Godfather and his Kurtz), although only over the end credits does it really get the freedom to fly.
To be frank, the songs don’t have the oomph and charm of the cartoon. But there is a real sense of wonder and adventure here – the CGI creatures are utterly amazing, anatomically, zoologically accurate and seamless in their life like movements in the equally CGI’d jungle. It’s one of those rare moments of modern SFX work where I really did wonder how they did it.
It’s funny, a bit scary (Elba is menacing, there’s a breathless Wildebeest stampede and the finale’s pretty hairy) and I was wholly impressed. My seven year old thought it “got a bit boring in the middle “ – and I have to agree with him, it’s a bit long when Mowgli hangs out with Baloo too long, getting honey – but my youngest “loved it, all of it.” It is an immensely likeable experience – maybe not a classic, but certainly a benchmark in digital animation as well an kids’ adventure of enduring quality.