Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Jungle Book

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An all-star cast brings 'The Jungle Book' reboot to life, but the new Mowgli is the standout.
Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) and Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) embark on a captivating journey in The Jungle Book. Photo / Supplied
Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) and Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) embark on a captivating journey in The Jungle Book. Photo / Supplied

Any human with a heart and a brain can tell you their all-time favourite childhood film and if -- in my case -- you stick around through the line-by-line re-enactment of The Lion King, I'll even get started on how they never should have made the sequels, and how I will move to Mars if they ever remake it. It's a damn shame that, bar rare beauties such as The Lego Movie and Disney's upcoming Zootopia, you can't get away from the troubling world of childhood reboots these days.


The latest kids' film to get a hefty reimagining is the onscreen vision of Rudyard Kipling's classic The Jungle Book, undergoing a live action facelift under the trusty thumb of Iron Man director and Chef star Jon Favreau. Mowgli, Baloo and friends last successfully stomped the big screen in 1967, so it's no surprise there might be a desire to breathe new life into Walt Disney's animated romp.

I get nervous every time I hear the big studio bosses are messing with what I consider to be a sacred childhood text.

News of reboots of Disney classics like The Jungle Book sends a familiar shiver down my spine, one that I blame almost wholly on Tim Burton and Johnny Depp for their crimes against humanity in Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Oh, how I loved the 1951 animated wonder of Alice chomping down on magical cookies and growing big. Oh, how my stomach rumbled for the edible wallpaper and everlasting gobstoppers of Gene Wilder's 1971 Willy Wonka days.

It makes me feel physically ill to know that children these days might not know of the profound terror of Wonka's steam boat, and instead only know the fresh hell of a million digitally-altered Deep Roys.

And don't even get me started on The Futterwacken, the nightmarish dance finale of Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Depp has already become frightening enough without the stick-on orange eyebrows and breakdancing.

Luckily Burton couldn't get his disastrous scissorhands on The Jungle Book and, as a result, it's a thrilling, heart-warming adventure through all walks of animal (and human) life. Exemplified by the likes of Andy Serkis as King Kong and Benedict Cumberbatch in a morph suit as Smaug, technology means animals can look as they are actually talking now and not just trying to get peanut butter off the roof of their mouth. This is a big plus.

With plenty of stars such as Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray lending their vocal stylings to beloved and/or terrifying characters Louie, Kaa and Baloo, the animals of The Jungle Book feel as real as anything David Attenborough could serve up. Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan gave me more than one fright, and I did wonder if his scarred face and murderous tendencies might be a bit much for very young children without the safety net of cartoon animation.

The star of the show, though, is Neel Sethi, the young lad playing Mowgli. Considering it's

likely he had to spend most of the film in front of a green screen, talking to a potato tied on to a broomstick, he does well to capture the wide-eyed wonder of the original and even manages a strong dose of moral conflict.

His relationship with Murray's Baloo will break your heart, as will the climax when his true place in the kingdom comes into question. I should mention as well, for those die-hard Jungle Book fans, that the original songs also seep through in their own ways -- be sure to stick around during the credits.

Despite seeing trailers beforehand for the second Burton Wonderland trip in Through the Looking Glass, and Spielberg's live-action take on The BFG, I left The Jungle Book feeling affirmed that the word "reboot" doesn't always have to equate to disaster.

Just keep your hands off The Lion King for now, I beg of you.

Opens April 21
Rated TBC


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