Disney’s The Jungle Book, review: ‘Bare necessities of fun in reboot’

Bagheera voiced by Ben Kingsley and Neel Sethi as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Picture: Disney Entrepr

Bagheera voiced by Ben Kingsley and Neel Sethi as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Picture: Disney Entreprises - Credit: Archant

Even for Disney, two talking animal films in a month seems excessive.

After the animation Zootropolis, comes this live action (ish) version of Rudyard Kipling’s tale. Mowgli, the young “man cub” brought up by a pack of wolves after being abandoned in the jungle, is played by an unknown child actor, (Sethi), surrounded by computer generated real animals, voiced by Hollywood stars.

It all looks real, but in such an intense, heightened way, that it is like something from Avatar, rather than the planet Earth.

The film sees Disney revisiting one of its great landmarks - the animated 1967 film was the last overseen by Walt himself – with a mixture of apology and affection.

It’s a beloved classic, of course, though notorious for being a travesty of the Kipling original and for the dated hep cat jazzy characterisations.

I suspect a lot of the love for it is really more for the songs than the film, and then only two of them: Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You. This new version wants to have it both ways: to make up for the affront and recreate it.

Initially it seems to be taking the story quite seriously, even solemnly.

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Elba is magnificently menacing as the ferocious tiger Shere Khan. The opening scenes are quite intense - if you have young children, that Parental Guidance rating is there for a reason.

But when Mowgli meets up with Baloo (Murray) the tone lightens dramatically and abruptly.

And then something really unexpected happens, so much so I’m tempted to call it a spoiler – they sing Bare Necessities.

It’s a taker aback and no mistake – it’s as if during The Dark Knight a big sign saying Kapow! in the style of the 60s TV Batman, appeared on screen every time Bale threw a punch.

So there you are thinking this would be quite a stern 21st Century re-imagining of a 20th century fripery and then it does an about face.

It isn’t as assured of itself, or as clever and entertaining as Zootropolis but there is fun and wonder enough here for most audiences.

For a review of the blu-ray release of Bertolucci’s five hour epic 1900, click here.

Rating: 4/5 stars.