It’s a bittersweet affair given the sudden death of comedian Garry Shandling at the age of 66, leaving The Jungle Book behind as his final movie role.
In Sydney for the film’s Australian premiere, director Jon Favreau spoke about his friend’s death of a massive heart attack on March 24 this year.
“I was very good friends with Garry Shandling who was the porcupine, it’s been a very sad week for us,” Favreau said just seven days after Shandling’s passing.
“He was a wonderful mentor and a wonderful person to work with. He brought this character to life who was in the books but not in the 1967 film.
“His enthusiasm always buoyed me and I’m sad he didn’t get to see the finished product … I am happy he’s in it and also so sad that he’s gone.”
Featuring first-timer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, Favreau explained the pressure of adapting such a popular film even 50 years on.
“The idea of going off to the jungle with a young actor and no one else except the crew, we never knew if we could create something as charming as the 1967 film and when it was first presented to me it was very daunting,” he admitted.
“Now with the new technology there was a way to tell this story differently to a new generation.
“You’re going to see technologies that have been combined in a way that has never been done before.”
Filmed in 3D, while a tad overwhelming in the film’s opening sequence, the method is soon used to amazing effect in the one scene featuring the python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).
The voice cast are thrilling, among them Idris Elba as the film’s majestic villain Shere Khan. Elba is somewhat more sinister than what we saw in the original, with Favreau describing his portrayal as a “Bill Sikes type”.
Even in a small role, Johansson is a stand-out as is Ben Kingsley as Mowgli’s guardian Bagheera, but none more so than Bill Murray as Baloo, both irrepressibly endearing and loveable in some of the film’s most hilarious and moving scenes.
Misstepping only with the awkward placement of Christopher Walken as King Louie, of all the cast Sethi succeeds best in bringing the cartoon and classic story to life in a surprisingly skilled performance and casting choice that was worth the thousands of auditions.
The adaptation is notably loyal in style and structure to its iconic predecessor, with Favreau even digging out the same book used in the original’s opening credits.
Not, however, is it by any stretch a musical – there are only two songs in the film, an aside of The Bare Necessities in a low-key recreation of the original’s river-swim and Walken’s song, the only really big number, seemingly inserted for the sake of nostalgia and woefully out of step with the rest of the film.
Drawing greater details from the books and delivering some different yet compelling story arcs, Favreau’s Jungle Book is in parts charming and thoughtful while managing to explore some of the many adult themes touched on by Kipling’s stories.
As far as remakes go, it is a well-made gamble that kids, adults and fans of the original will love. And, of course, anyone looking to pay tribute to the work of the late, great Garry Shandling.