It’s a piece of cake to make a live action movie out of an animated Disney fairy tale classic involving humans, like last year’s Cinderella, or even of a mythical beast, like the upcoming Pete’s Dragon due to open 1 September 2016.

But try to make animals (not the domestic farmyard variety in Babe, but the ferocious safari sort) talk and, worse, sing, and look believable in a non-magical setting and it doesn’t stick. That’s probably why the first live action remake of The Jungle Book, in 1994 starring Jason Scott Lee featured real animals, well trained though they were, they had no lines.

But fast forward a dozen years, and in the latest The Jungle Book, the current Disney remake of Nobel Prize winner Rudyard Kipling’s 19th century stories, actual animals are redundant. Yet, no one’s the wiser, because Disney has outdone itself with all the computer-generated imagery used to create this spectacle of a show, where disbelief is willingly suspended.


Here’s the story, for those who never saw the original: Brought up by a wolf pack, Mowgli (Neel Sethi), realizes that he’s no longer welcome in the jungle he grew up in and calls home. Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) a tiger who holds a grudge against humans – who scarred him by fire – is hell-bent on exterminating the 10-year-old. As it did in The Lion King, this forces Mowgli on a journey of self-discovery, with the help of a panther named Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray) — both of whom bantered with each other on who knew what was best for the man-cub. And though the 1967 Disney version had already been sanitized with the original darker bits excised from the cartoon, for the sake of storytelling tension, Mowgli still gets to meet not-so-friendly animals along the way. These would be Kaa (Scarlett Johansson, whose voicework here is even more desirable than in Her), a python with a silky, seductive voice and a hypnotic gaze, and King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who is after the secret of the “red flower” (fire). Walken’s line, “Kid, I got ears. My ears, got ears…” is both funny and the surest giveaway that this story didn’t happen in British-ruled India more than 100 years ago. However, UrbanWire was really impressed with Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. The amount of emotion she channeled into her voice when Raksha and Mowgli had to part, was beautiful enough to make us tear. Her grief and reluctance to let Mowgli go were palpable from just that short conversation they had.


For making us care about the animals, we owe credit not only to the fine voice-acting, but the animators definitely deserve 2-paws up for their more than lifelike creations– even subtle movements such a nose twitch or ears drawing flat against the head have been handled with immaculate care and precision, for viewers to even understand how the animal feels. It’s the kind of magic that made the Na’vi in Avatar so relatable. For example, when Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mom felt threatened by Shere Khan, her ears would lie flat and her head would dip low, her body hunching slightly to show her bristling. This attention to detail makes the digitally-created world seem so natural. Who would have thought that next to the young unknown actor, nearly everything was done with a green screen.

And let’s not forget the only breathing presence, Neel Sethi, in his first feature film. Acting with a cast of veterans is 1 thing, wearing nothing much more than a red loincloth and interacting with characters who aren’t physically there is another matter altogether. As challenging as his role was, he’s done a commendable job and looks like he belongs in front of the camera. Though he could have shown more anguish and shock when he found out about the death of Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), leader of the wolf pack. C’mon he’s only 13 and totally a newbie.

Having had well-known projects under him, like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, Director Jon Favreau, needless to say, played a huge role in the success of this film. He understood how to pace the movie appropriately, especially the build-up of Mowgli and Baloo’s relationship. Being a major part of the story, it’s important that this relationship is well developed and paced well to reach that level of friendship, to make Baloo’s sacrifice for him realistic and emotional for us. This we thought, Favreau did well.


Fans of the cartoon may want to stone us, but we thought incorporating the 2 songs: “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” did little for us because of how awkwardly they were inserted. We understand that these were 2 of the most beloved Jungle Book songs, but we actually cringed when King Louie, the menacing-looking orang utan, started singing suddenly, and not because of Walken’s gravelly voice.

Even so, we’re glad screenwriter Justin Marks stayed close to the storyline of the 1967 animation, saving us from all those movies that completely deviate from the original cartoon — let’s say, Tarzan (2013). With the right amounts of action, stunningly lifelike CGI, smooth character/relationship build-ups and humor, The Jungle Book is certainly a movie that both the young and old can enjoy.

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Release Date: 7 April 2016

Runtime: 106 minutes

Language: English

Censorship Rating: PG

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy

Director: Jon Favreau

Featured Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios