Jon Favreau’s new production of The Jungle Book for Disney is nothing short of spectacular: a reinvention of the much-loved cartoon feature brought to life with taste, heart, and cutting-edge technology. When I heard composer John Debney’s rerecording of the Disney logo music, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a smile crossed my lips, and any doubts I had about combining a live-action Mowgli (Neel Sethi ) with CGI-rendered animals was dispelled within moments.
Much has changed since Walt Disney made his lighthearted animated film in 1967, and that too is reflected here. This is a much more intense film where life-and-death struggles are explicit, if not graphically depicted on camera. (I would urge parents of young children to heed the PG warning.) In place of George Sanders’ elegantly evil Shere Khan we have a much more ruthless villain, as voiced by the imposing Idris Elba.
But with Bill Murray inhabiting the character of Baloo the bear there is still plenty of room for fun; he’s a perfect choice. And grownups in the audience will get a kick out of hearing Christopher Walken in the role of King Louie. Both characters get to sing their signature tunes, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (the latter with newly-penned lyrics by Richard M. Sherman) in a deft transition from straightforward action to vaudeville-style performance. Kudos go, once again, to director Favreau and composer Debney for figuring out a way to incorporate these emblematic songs without making them seem out of place in the new environment of this Jungle Book.
Only the action climax seemed a bit protracted to me, but then, no one in 2016 would dare release a major feature film running a mere 68 minutes as Disney did in the late ‘60s. This is The Jungle Book for a new generation that doesn’t seek to obliterate the original; thank goodness. It’s a terrific piece of entertainment that I daresay would please Walt Disney himself.