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Jungle Book, The (3D) (DQ)


Stars: Neel Sethi. Voices: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong'o, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling

Director: Jon Favreau

I have to admit I'm still not totally reconciled to the idea of talking animals in live-action films. Even here, in this (sort of) live version of Rudyard Kipling's classic tale of adventure, it's kinda creepy and difficult to get used to.

But, that caveat aside, this is otherwise a stunning new version of Kipling's yarn of a boy raised by wolves in the Indian rainforest, much more visceral than Disney's own cartoon classic of 1967, but retaining its songs: neither fish nor fowl perhaps, in this sense, but immensely entertaining nonetheless - even the peripheral animal characters like the pangolin are amusingly treated - with a literally crackling climax, as Mowgli (Sethi, whose Noo York accent is a little jarring at first) fights for his life as Shere Khan the tiger (Elba) stalks him in the midst of a jungle inferno.

Elba's calculated menace is more overt than the sardonic tones of George Sanders from the cartoon feature, but just as effective in a different way. Kingsley is a straitlaced Bagheera, Murray a droll Baloo, Walken an absolute hoot as King Louie (now an enormous orang-utan) and Johansson, who also sings Trust in Me, suitably seductive as Kaa, the giant snake who hypnotises her victims.

Then there's the pounding excitement of the water-buffalo stampede and a few more battles with the evil tiger for good measure, all against lush (digitally-created) jungle backdrops that you can almost smell. And there's lots of humour too: when Baloo sings The Bare Necessities, Mowgli responds by reciting the Law of the Jungle. 'That's not a song,' protests the indignant bear. 'That's propaganda.'

Some of the action's a wee bit scary for tots, perhaps, but sweepingly good fun for the rest of us, with Shere Khan's pursuit of Mowgli to the heights of a giant tree reminiscent of pirate Israel Hands' pursuit of Jim Hawkins up a mast in Treasure Island - Disney's first-ever live-action film 65 years ago.

David Quinlan

USA 2016. UK Distributor: Disney. Technicolor.
105 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 12 Apr 2016