With an impressive cast of voice actors and a lot of striking CGI, The Jungle Book brings to life the popular stories by Rudyard Kipling of a young boy named Mowgli who is brought up by animals in the Indian wilderness. Played by newcomer Neel Sethi, Mowgli is first discovered by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a black panther who brings him to the wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) to be raised as one of their pack. However, the man-hating Bengal tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), threatens to kill Mowgli before he can grow up and be the most dangerous creature in the jungle. Bagheera and the wolves decide that Mowgli must be returned to his own kind, sending him off on a reluctant path away from his friends and family. On the way, Mowgli encounters more fascinating characters, particularly the laidback, sloth bear, Baloo (Bill Murray) and the terrifying, giant orangutan, King Louie (Christopher Walken).
The CGI is truly outstanding in Jon Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book. The animals are quite beautifully rendered yet still straddle that line between kid-friendly cartoon and eye-boggling realism. The main conflict, which is a classic tale of power struggles in the natural world, takes on new shades with Shere Khan’s ferocious characterization, surprising new back story, and Idris Elba’s melodious and intimidating voice, turning the villain into a far more interesting character than the one seen in the 1967 animated film version. Also, having Bill Murray voice Baloo is a masterstroke as Murray instantly turns the lazy, almost manipulative, bear into the most endearing and lovable animal in the film. Neel Sethi gets away with Mowgli’s occasionally blinkered kid logic with adorable levels of self-confidence. All in all, The Jungle Book is an excellent movie that fires on all cylinders and also manages to draw from the best parts of other jungle-based movies, like The Lion King, Tarzan, and its own filmic predecessors.
Rating: 4 out of 5 baby elephants