Saturday, 7 May 2016

It's a swinging time with Disney's new Jungle Book

It has been bad enough seeing the current Halifax advert: quite apart from the apparent message that all you need to do in order to get a mortgage is to spin a wide boy tale of suffering and accompany it all with a tear-jerking violin solo, that it has Top Cat selling this new era of banking responsibility really set my teeth on edge.

And when I then saw what they have done to one of my childhood favourites in the forthcoming Top Cat film ... well, lets just say that I’m not a happy bunny.

Like most people, I suspect, I can be more than a tad precious about things that were happy parts of my childhood.

The day we got a colour TV, I walked into the living room after school to find Top Cat playing – and was astonished to discover that he was yellow, with a purple waistcoat.

The disappointment of George Lucas’s second Star Wars trilogy and the subsequent pleasure at the revival of the franchise under JJ Abrams, is testament to just how much the original trio meant to me as a teenager and young adult.

But I can get it very wrong too.

When the BBC premiered Sherlock, I had a grand funk at the mere idea of it being updated, and refused to watch. This was particularly barmy, since I’d originally loved the Basil Rathbone screen incarnation, which included episodes of Holmes v the Nazis (as well as that woefully inaccurate cliché of a dumb Watson).

Rathbone, it’s true, had long been overtaken in my personal pantheon by the wonderful Jeremy Brett, but when I eventually gave in and watched Sherlock, it was to fall completely in love with the updating and Benedict Cumberbatchs performance.

For me, The Jungle Book has probably been my favourite Disney film since childhood, when seeing it with my parents was followed, uniquely, by seeing it again at the cinema with a much-loved great aunt. It is the only classic Disney animated film that I own a copy of.

I have not, until now, had to clarify that by all this, I mean the 1967 Disney cartoon.

On first hearing that Disney was making a new version, I had something approaching another Sherlock-style funk. But then, a few weeks ago, I saw a trailer on the internet and then again on the big screen. It was impossible not to be intrigued.

The discovery that at least some of the original songs were also involved this time around provoked even more interest.

A colleague with whom I’ve been discussing films lately asked whether I was tempted – on the basis that he was, but remained unsure.

The Other Half and I decided that the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it.

I’m glad we did.

Because the 2016 incarnation of The Jungle Book is an absolute joy.

We saw it in 3D – and that certainly added to the experience.

The CGI is astounding. The animals are staggeringly realistic – they seem to have weight and fullness; they move wonderfully. The jungle itself is also beautifully realised.

Such lushness alone would not be enough to make this the hit that it is, but director Jon Favreau has ensured that it has heart by the bucket load.

The characters are not sketches, but are drawn in depth and voiced by a top-notch cast, including Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Bill Murray as Baloo, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Lupito Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mother and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa.

The relationships between all the characters have nuance and subtlety.

The human element relies on Neel Sethi as the man cub – and the youngster turns in a really wonderful performance that is engaging and utterly believable, without ever drifting into annoying screen child syndrome.

I haven’t read Rudyard Kipling’s original stories, but this has a sense of being closer to those than to Hollywood: that the animals have their own ‘laws’ and their own mythology adds to a hint of something mystical.

That we have a back story for both Mowgli and Shere Khan is also a welcome development.

There are laughter and tears, darkness and light here, together with moments that only the adults will spot, such as the intended nod to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from King Louie, plus reverential nods back to the animated classic.

It can be no surprise that, at the time of writing, The Jungle Book is topping the UK film charts for the third week running.

So, my childhood memories remain unsullied and, on the basis of this, I can now look forward to seeing the new Disney version of Pete’s Dragon (the original was never that great anyway) when it opens later this year.

You can still keep that new Top Cat, though.

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