The Jungle Book’ review: It’s a stunning visual achievement

The Jungle Book. Out on 15 April.

The Jungle Book. Out on 15 April.

The Jungle Book movie review: This is The Jungle Book reinvented for 2016 by a director who knows just how to mix the heavy blows with the light touch. It’s a little more reminiscent of the jungle and the book than the 1967 Disney classic, a lot, lot darker, and yet, ultimately as exuberant, with a surprisingly strong and novel message at the heart of it, in a story that already didn’t lack for them.

Rating: 4 / 5

The slushy escape from a mad tiger and a landslide, astride a water buffalo, is worth a Revenant. The slouch atop a branch where a child, a panther and a bear hang out together, into the sunset, is worth a Lion King. The destruction wrought by an angry giant monkey is worth a King Kong. The heartbreak of a goodbye between friends is worth a Finding Nemo. The Shere Khan will haunt your sleep, the Baloo cheer up your day, and the Mowgli will make every child, and adult, want to walk swinging those arms just a bit.

This is The Jungle Book reinvented for 2016, by a director who knows just how to mix the heavy blows with the light touch. It’s a little more reminiscent of the jungle and the book than the 1967 Disney classic, a lot, lot darker, and yet, ultimately, as exuberant, with a surprisingly strong and novel message at its heart, in a story that already didn’t lack them.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE>>> The Jungle Book Trailer

There is no ‘boy being found in a basket, on a boat’ stuff here. We meet Mowgli (Neel Sethi) when already 10 and already finding himself struggling with the wolf life. While his wolf pack is as accommodating as ever, a “water truce” called due to a drought – bringing all the animals together, in peace, to a sole watering hole – brings him to the attention of the other animals in the jungle. Most are just curious, but Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is furious.

Left scarred by humans once, Shere Khan wants his revenge, and tells the wolves who have raised Mowgli (Akela and Rakhsa, voiced by Esposito and Lupita Nyong’O) that he will wait till only the rains to come after the man cub.

The time comes, and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who was the one to bring the infant Mowgli to the wolves, tells Raksha that he must take the boy to a “man village” for his safety. There on begin the adventures which bring Mowgli face-to-face with first Shere Khan, then the water buffaloes, Kaa, Baloo and King Louie.

Favreau, and screenplay writer Justin Marks, who struggle a bit in the beginning with all the harmony, come alive from here on as the film ventures into the jungle. This is Madhya Pradesh’s tropical-forest Kanha Tiger Reserve recreated in Los Angeles, from the creak of a dead tree and the dried tip of a grass patch, to the landslide sending a forest slipping down into the raging Pench — using the tech knowhow also behind Avatar, Gravity and Life of Pi.

However, that’s just the start. Where the film scores consistently is in its CGI-crafted talking animals, who emote and enact without anything appearing out of the ordinary. Plus, if you look hard enough, you can spot the wily wisdom of Kingsley in Bagheera, the unmatched jowly languor of Murray in Baloo, the shiny, spiky Walken in King Louie, and the actress with just the right amount of ‘ss’ (a suitably hypnotic Scarlett Johansson) in Kaa. Though nothing prepares you for the ferociousness and vehemence the mild-mannered Elba packs into Shere Khan.

There are many scenes which stand out, including Louie emerging out of the shadows after a bone-chilling lazy conversation, Shere Khan wriggling through the narrowest of tree branches (a fact about animals that one tends to overlook), and Mowgli racing through a dark forest holding aloft a torch.

It’s a Disney film alright (complete with Bare Necessities, and I Want To Be Just Like You) but you leave in the sound comfort of knowing that here is a director not just in love with your much-loved childhood story but treating it with the growing respect of an adult.

When Mowgli, told to sing, first recites the Law of the Jungle – ‘For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack’ – Baloo exclaims, “That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!” That is delightful, but so is the later realisation of the old forest wisdom that lies at the heart of it.

And while Colonel Haathi of the 1967 film may have been as memorable a Disney character as they come, this Jungle Book knows it better. When it comes to the jungle, the silent giant is one animal not to be trifled with.

Director: Jon Favreau

Voices in Jungle Book of Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’O, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson

READ MORE  The new normal: virtual reality takes on the arts

The new normal: virtual reality takes on the arts

From Batman v Superman to The Tempest at Stratford, here’s how virtual reality will shape the arts, culture and entertainment industries in 2016

Batman-V-Superman-Doomsday1

Batman Vs Superman Doomsday

In January, it was revealed that Apple is assembling a team of virtual reality (VR) experts to build prototypes of 3D headsets to match those of VR rivals Oculus Rift, which was bought by Facebook for $2bn (Ksh 200bn) in 2014; Google Cardboard, which transforms your smartphone into a cut-price VR viewer; Microsoft’s forthcoming VR product HoloLens, or Magic Leap, which is being developed by a secretive US start-up.

Lucky's Tale

Lucky’s Tale

Coming soon: eagerly awaited VR releases include Lucky’s Tale

This year the major technology players will all place big bets that virtual reality is about to change the way we live in as many far-reaching ways as the internet has. If that is true, what will it mean for the arts and entertainment? Intriguingly, the rise of virtual reality (in which a brand new reality is presented to the subject, typically via a helmet-like headset) and augmented reality (in which computer-generated elements are overlaid on the subject’s view of the real world) throws up different challenges for each branch of the arts.

For video games, recent advances in VR are a natural progression of the evolution of gameplay over the last 40 years. 2016’s most exciting new VR releases will include the cartoon-like Lucky’s Tale, the multi-player space combat game Eve: Valkyrie and the arctic adventure Edge of Nowhere, out later this year, all playable with an Oculus Rift headset and PC.

No wonder it is predicted that around the world we will spend $5.1bn (£3.7bn) on virtual-reality video games and hardware this year.

By contrast, immersive technologies are having surprisingly little impact on film. Of course, computer-generated images have led to a revolution in the kind of stories that can be told on screen. Many of 2016’s most keenly anticipated films – Batman v Superman (out 25 March), The Jungle Book (out 15 April), Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (out 22 July) and the Harry Potter-inspired Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (out 18 November) – rely on CGI to cast their spell.

The Jungle Book (out 15 April)

The Jungle Book (out 15 April)

New vision: The Jungle Book  Photo: Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But film-lovers have so far failed to respond as enthusiastically to advances in the way films are themselves experienced: 3-D is best suited to eye-popping action movies, while for more realistic dramas and comedies many cinema-goers find the added “realism” a distraction.

Do we want virtual reality to make us feel like active participants in cinema – so that audiences can, for instance, touch and even taste the raw bison liver that Leonardo DiCaprio eats in The Revenant? Perhaps not.

A quieter revolution in virtual reality is already underway in Britain’s museums and galleries. At the end of last year, the British Museum launched its first virtual tours, in which users could explore its collection from the comfort of their sofas by using an indoor version of Google Maps’ Street View. It was part of the ongoing roll-out of the Google Cultural Institute, a scheme to provide internet-enabled access to great artistic and historical collections around the world.

In truth, the project is not as revelatory as it sounds because the virtual representation of the museums and their objects is not sufficiently fluent or realistic. But this will come. Between now and 2020 we can expect tens of thousands of cultural treasures currently stored in the archives of the British Museum, National Gallery, V&A and others to become available to the general public thanks to virtual reality.

The Tempest at Stratford

The Tempest at Stratford

Show stopper: The Tempest at Stratford in November  Photo: RSC

One might presume that the theatre – perhaps our most ancient form of virtual reality – would have little to gain from these advances. In fact, 2016 will see several innovative experiments that combine elements of VR with live theatrical performance.

In November, for instance, the Royal Shakespeare Company will present a production of The Tempest at Stratford quite unlike any seen in the play’s 405-year history, as the spirit Ariel will be represented by a 3D hologram projected above the audience using technology developed by Andy Serkis’s visual effects studio Imaginarium. Is this the stuff our future dreams are made on?