In Review

Jungle Book 'beggars belief' that it was shot in a studio

Critics praise dazzling special effects in 'one of most engrossing film worlds since Avatar'

Disney's new blockbuster adaptation of The Jungle Book, which updates Rudyard Kipling's children's classic using the latest CGI wizardry, has bowled over the critics.

Directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau, the film uses live action and computer graphics to update Disney's 1967 animated film version, which tells the story of Mowgli, who is raised in the jungle by wolves.

Newcomer Neel Sethi takes the leading role, with the likes of Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken voicing the various jungle animals. 

Critics have called The Jungle Book "immersive" and "exceptionally beautiful" - and it has even received praise from an animal welfare organisation for its "stunning cruelty free CGI" creatures.

The "beguilingly credible" computer rendering of real-life animals takes its biggest leap forward since Life of Pi, says Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. This umpteenth film rendition of the story proves entirely engaging, "exceptionally beautiful to behold and bolstered by a stellar vocal cast", he says.

One of the most startling things about the film is that it was shot in downtown Los Angeles, says Andrew Barker in Variety. "So immersively does the film's visual-effects team craft every tree, waterfall and flower" of the fantastical subcontinental setting, and so carefully are the talking CGI animals rendered, "it almost beggars belief" that the whole thing was shot in a studio. 

"But aside from investing in top-drawer digital craftsmanship, the canniest move Disney made on this film was hiring Favreau," says Barker. The director maintains "the buoyant heartbeat beneath all the digital flash" and never loses sight of the fact he's making an adventure story for children.

No offence to its only human cast member, says Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph, but "the real star" is the computer-generated talking tiger.

Shere Khan, voiced "with magnificence" by Idris Elba, is realised in such extraordinarily hair-perfect detail and moves with such persuasive physicality and weight, "he might as well be the real, red-in-tooth-and-claw deal". 

Favreau and his team of special-effects wizards plunge us into one of the big screen's most engrossing artificial worlds since Avatar, says Alonso Duralde on The Wrap, not to mention "the most convincing conversational creatures since Babe".

One shortcoming, however, is that this "Book" lacks "the post-vaudeville razzamatazz of its predecessor", he adds. The musical classics from the Disney original, The Bear Necessities and I Wan'na Be Like You, are included, but somewhat haphazardly, says the critic, and the film would have been better served "by either cutting the numbers altogether or by taking a full plunge".

Nevertheless, more praise emerged from an unlikely source – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal rights group better known as Peta. It awarded The Jungle Book its Innovation In Film award for "making the compassionate decision to use stunning cruelty-free CGI technology" to create the animal characters.

The Jungle Book is released in UK cinemas on 15 April.

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