I have to admit, I am not much of a Jon Favreau fan - I found his Iron Man pictures, as well as Elf for that matter, rather cookie-cooker and undistinguished. In the superhero genre, at least, he does not have the impressive vision of a Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan, or even a Richard Donner for that matter. I preferred his Cowboys & Aliens to the Iron Man films, actually, because while it was a mess, it at least had a hint of freshness and novelty behind it.
So when Favreau signed on to The Jungle Book, which isn't exactly among my favorites in the Disney filmography, I was, to put it mildly, not terribly enthused.
Lo and behold, however, I ended up really liking - even kind of loving, for the most part - Favreau's enchanting take on Rudyard Kipling. It has a lot of the same awe-inspiring family movie magic as say, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Finding Nemo - no matter your age, you're transported back to childhood and there's lots of heart string-tugging at play.
The picture looks sumptuous - here's to hoping Bill Pope's cinematography can be a player in next year's Oscar race - and the voiceover work is pitch-perfect all-around. Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and the late, great Garry Shandling (as a porcupine) are a hoot, Idris Elba is spine-tingling as Shere Khan and this is some of Sir Ben Kingsley's finest screen work since Shutter Island and Hugo.
The Jungle Book of course would not work, however, without a convincing Mowgli and holy cow, Neel Sethi is just about downright perfect in the role - engaging, riveting and funny, and you have to give him extra kudos for pulling it all off against what is essentially a world of wall-to-wall CGI. Between Sethi here and Jacob Tremblay and Abraham Attah last year, this has been such a great time in film for young leading men.
The Jungle Book will no doubt go down as one of my most pleasant moviegoing surprises in 2016.