The 1967 animated film to me is still one of Disney's best of the "classic era". This is not just nostalgia talking, quite a few childhood favourites have not held up, but 'The Jungle Book' is an example of one that has.
Expectations were mixed for seeing this film. The trailer looked great, the voice cast is filled with enormous talent and the featurette was fascinating. It was just that, relating it to the other Disney live action adaptations, whether it was going to be one example of a re-boot that looked stunning, was well-written and performed, respected its original source material(s) and added its fresh spin, like 'Cinderella, or a well-made film with enough other decent elements to make it watchable but also one lacking in soul and charm, like 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Fortunately, 'The Jungle Book' is an even stronger example of the former, and is one of Jon Favreau's best films along with 'Iron Man'. Fans of the animation will love recognising the familiar characters and scenes and it was also really nice to see more of Rudyard Kipling's writing and story telling here, the ending being closer to that of the animated film. 'The Jungle Book' is wonderful on its own merits too, just like the Disney animated film was, which was a poor adaptation of the book but worked so well as a film on its own that it didn't matter.
Criticisms for the film are very few. The first criticism is that Kaa's scene and screen-time is far too short, a great character like Kaa deserves far more than a mere five minutes or so. And it is a shame because it is a very suspenseful and hypnotic scene with some of the film's most striking visuals, and the deceptively maternal story teller approach was beautifully written and delivered. Regrettably, the other criticism was "I Wanna Be Like You". While one of the highlights of the animated film, and one of Disney's most iconic moments, because the scene is darker and King Louie more intimidating (in size and manner),also because it comes out of nowhere, the light-hearted fun of the song that worked so brilliantly before just doesn't fit here (if Christopher Walken really did desperately want to sing the song, it didn't show in his singing because he sounded uninterested and hesitant).
On the other hand, the film looks amazing. The rich, expansive cinematography is some of the best of the year so far and the scenery and settings are so vividly detailed and colourful, that reading that it was shot entirely in a warehouse was a shock. The rendering of the animals are staggeringly realistic, especially Shere Khan, Bagheera and the monkeys. Favreau directs with a keen eye for detail and spectacle, yet doesn't forget the drama, cast or the storytelling once. John Debney's music score is full of energy, atmosphere, warm orchestration and vibrant emotion, its referencing of familiar themes feeling nostalgic and affectionate rather than cheap. As for the songs in the film, although "I Wanna Be Like You" was a disappointment "Bear Necessities" fitted right in and was as good-natured and easy-going as one can hope and "Trust in Me" is worth listening to if you stay for the closing credits, Scarlett Johansson with her low-register, smoky yet sensual tone does a surprisingly good job with the song.
'The Jungle Book's' script is very funny (Baloo getting the funniest lines, and some of them were hilarious) without being childish or simplistic while also easy to understand and thought-provoking, there is a good amount of depth too without being too dark or sugary sweet. The story moves quickly and is constantly enthralling, one thing it does better than the animated version is expanding on motivations and making characters more interesting (as great a villain as Shere Khan is in the animated film, his motivation to me seemed clearer here). The climax is dramatically satisfying and darkly tense.
A great job is done with the characters also. They're not complex, but they are likable and interesting, are very true in personality to their animated counterparts and all serve a point in the storytelling, some like Shere Khan and the wolves expanded upon. It was easy to identify with Mowgli, Baloo is a breath of fresh air and to me a great villain is one that one can totally see why the villain is hated or feared but one can also understand their point of view, which is the case with Shere Khan (this is true of the animated film too, but as Shere Khan has more of a back story here it came through stronger to me). The cast were a talented one to begin with and their talents absolutely shine through. Newcomer Neel Sethi does very credibly as Mowgli, it is incredibly hard to react against nothing and apart from a few naturally stiff moments to begin with he handles all the different emotional elements very well. The superbly chosen vocal cast are even better.
Bill Murray was born for Baloo (sounding far more engaged than as Garfield),his relaxed but witty voice-work matching the character's easy-going, good-natured personality. Idris Elba effectively puts dread into one's heart as Shere Khan, he's silky, regal, charismatic and genuinely menacing, though George Sanders brought over the suavity and oiliness more. Ben Kingsley is a stern yet sympathetic Bagheera, and Christopher Walken, in a characterisation that is like a mix of mobster boss, Colonel Kurtz and Walken's own mannerisms, makes King Louie intimidating but also entertaining. Scarlett Johansson's voice work for Kaa is eerily sensual, Giancarlo Esposito is a dignified Akeela and Lupita Nyong'o's Raksha is movingly compassionate.
In conclusion, a truly great film. Works very well as a live-action re-boot and works even more as a film in general. An epic visually stunning adventure, told with fun, heart and depth. 9/10 Bethany Cox