Jon Favreau’s reimaging of The Jungle Book proves that Disney may be onto something with these live-action remakes

The Jungle Book may be the biggest surprise of 2016, because it has achieved the seemingly impossible: it pleased everyone. The original Disney animated movie is sacred to The House of Mouse’s fan base, and despite its dated script, is still seen as one of the greatest animated movies of all time. So when it was announced that The Jungle Book would be the next in line for Disney’s new trend of live-action remakes, fans were understandably sceptical. There’s already been lots of live-action adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s famous stories, and not one of them is remembered as fondly as Disney’s. After all, Disney’s remakes have only been slightly successful: Maleficent was well received, but that was a reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, whereas Cinderella made no impact at all, not to mention the fact that Andy Serkis will be releasing his own version sometime in 2017. The stage was set for The Jungle Book to fail. Instead director Jon Favreau gave us one of the most magical films of the year.

We all know the story, Mowgli is a little boy who is raised by wolves, and his mentor, the puma Bagheera. After a run-in with fearsome tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli must go on the run bag to the place of man, and meets a series of iconic characters on the way. The bones of the Disney original remain the same, but Favreau has bigger ambitions. The world of The Jungle Book is stunningly rendered, a place teaming with wildlife that are beautifully realised. Mainly using CGI, the movie becomes an immersive experience, it really doesn’t take much to suspend your disbelief and jump, feet first, into this world.

The voice cast helps consolidate this feeling of legitimise. Each actor brings a deep sense of personality to their role: Ben Kingsley as Bagheera sells his reluctant mentorship with a profound sense of responsibility. Bill Murry predictably steals the entire movie as Baloo, playing the sloth bear like an eternal slacker. Christopher Walken as King Louie, and Scarlet Johansson as Kaa, both revel in the menace of their characters, both of whom make their own marks on the film despite limited screen time. The real star is Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Of all the things that this movie improves on the original, the terror that Elba evokes through Khan’s completely understandable motivations may be its greatest achievement. In a summer that has been seriously lacking in big, bad villains, Shere Khan is a terrifying breath of fresh air.

The 2016 version of The Jungle Book is a rare example of studio filmmaking creating a refreshing, forward-thinking film. It has its thrills: the dynamic direction of Mowgli free-running through the jungle are exhilarating, it has a big heart, and it will scare the hell out of your kids.

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