Disney’s live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories, starring Neel Sethi as boy-cub Mowgli, is a spectacularly entertaining family film.
This version is not as cuddly as the studio’s classic 1967 cartoon (showing on New Year’s Day) and it takes a moment to adjust to the sight of the film’s talking CGI creatures interacting with impishly charming newcomer Sethi’s boy raised in the wild by wolves.
But the starry voice cast soon has us under its spell. Ben Kingsley is a purring panther Bagheera, Mowgli’s stern mentor, while Idris Elba’s fearsome tiger Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson’s seductively sinister python Kaa and Christopher Walken’s giant ape King Louie represent some of terrifying threats the man-cub encounters. Fortunately, this Jungle Book is fun as well as frightening, particularly when Bill Murray’s laid-back hustler of a bear, Baloo, appears on the scene.
Director Jon Favreau drops a few of the original cartoon’s Sherman Brothers’ tunes into the action – with mixed results. Murray’s rendition of The Bare Necessities isn’t a patch on Phil Harris’ original, although Walken has a better stab at I Wanna Be Like You. But they’re just minor nitpicks in what is for the most part a thrilling, amusing and delightful movie.