FILM OF THE WEEK: The Jungle Book (PG) ****
Much, much more than the bare necessities of life will come to you in Jon Favreau's technically dazzling romp through the stories of Rudyard Kipling.
Not since James Cameron’s Avatar has a 3D digital world been conjured with such depth and precision.
Shot in downtown Los Angeles and beautifully rendered as untamed wilderness on computer hard drives, this immersive Jungle Book retains the wide-eyed charm of the 1967 Disney animation.
Vibrant colour radiates off the screen and gooey sentimentality oozes like sap during the rousing final act, but scriptwriter Justin Marks isn’t afraid to hack into darker territory.
Shere Khan the Bengal tiger evokes a heartbreaking scene from The Lion King in his blood-crazed pursuit of Mowgli, and the animated version’s jazziest interlude – I Wan’na Be Like You with jungle VIP King Louie and his band of monkeysicians – is repurposed as a terrifying chase.
Man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by wolves Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) as a brother to other pups.
A drought necessitates an uneasy truce between predators and prey around the watering hole, and other denizens of the jungle finally get to see Mowgli close-up.
The boy is an affront to Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who lost an eye to a fiery torch.
‘A man cub becomes man, and man is forbidden!’ snarls the big cat, who demands the child be handed over to him for slaughter.
Akela and Raksha refuse, but Mowgli acknowledges his presence jeopardises the lupine clan.
So he embarks on a journey back to civilisation in the company of his protector, Bagheera the black panther (Sir Ben Kingsley).
En route, Mowgli gathers honey for Baloo (Bill Murray) and is pressurised into sharing the secret of ‘the red flower’ – fire – with King Louie (Christopher Walken).
The Jungle Book flexes its digital muscles in every impeccably crafted frame.
Sethi is a tad wooden in comparison, but it must be difficult for a 12-year-old newcomer to find an emotional core when the rest of the cast and lush backgrounds only spring to life in post-production.
Vocal performances are strong, replete with disorienting use of Scarlett Johansson’s seductive whisper in surround sound during Mowgli’s encounter with python Kaa.
Favreau’s film is a majestic walk on the wild side.