A timeless favorite is given a magnificently layered makeover in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book.
Blending live action with flashy CGI, the film taps the inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories and the hugely successful 1967 Disney screen adaptation to craft a captivating and thoroughly entertaining adventure tale.
Featuring first-time actor Neel Sethi – he is the only human member of the cast – and an array of computer-generated talking animals, The Jungle Book takes no time at all to hit its straps.
Until it winds up 107 minutes later, it does not stop for breath, except aptly during a brief passage devoted to the lethargic Baloo (voices of Bill Murray and Irrfan Khan), the bear that Mowgli befriends as he swings through the forest on his way to a ‘man village’.
For Indian audiences, the film is special and not only because the action unfolds in a jungle in this country.
The Jungle Book has opened in India a week ahead of the US and the film also has a Hindi version voiced by the likes of Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan Khan, Om Puri, Nana Patekar and Shefali Shah.
While the participation of the Mumbai actors in the project might not be as organic as that of the Hollywood voice cast Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Lupita Nyong’o, among others they are bound to give the film wider appeal in this part of the world, where Mowgli’s adventures are in any case a perennial favorite.
The fact that, in Favreau’s hands, The Jungle Book acquires an unprecedented level of dynamism will certainly propel the film to the top of the charts.
The Jungle Book is an amazing amalgam of technical wizardry and emotional depth which intelligently deploys fantasy-adventure genre conventions to carve out an immersive movie experience.
When the tale it relates is well-known, the focus is bound to be on ‘how’ rather than on ‘what’. On both counts, Favreau makes all the right moves.
Mowgli (debutant Neel Sethi) faces the wrath of the Man-hating Royal Bengal tiger Shere Khan (voices of Idris Elba and Nana Patekar).
So the boy brought up by wolves has to flee the jungle escorted by the pensive black panther Bagheera (voices of Ben Kingsley and Om Puri).
The journey turns out to be a coming-of-age voyage as Mowgli faces many dangers and weaves his way out of tight spots, aided in no mean measure by his stern feline mentor and the fun-loving Baloo, both of whom repeatedly remind him of the law of the jungle.
The gigantic python Kaa (voices of Scarlett Johansson and Priyanka Chopra) assumes a female form in the film and ensnares Mowgli with her powers of hypnosis.
The equally massive orangutan King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken and Bugs Bhargava), too, does Mowgli no favors but with unflappable friends on his side the man cub has enough going for him to be able to ward off all evil.
The Jungle Book, for its all its surface vim and vigor, is essentially cast in the classic mould that the story demands. It is enlivened with the standard emotional tropes related to family, friendship and the virtues of staying together in the face of adversity.
It is a children’s tale all right, but Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks ensure that there is enough in the mix for everyone.
Thanks to the way it balances epic scale with sustained emotional traction, The Jungle Book is an irresistible fare.–PTI