I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
After my glowing review of Civil War, Disney appears to be able to do no wrong. Well let’s see if that’s true with their latest live-action remake.
The Jungle Book, is a remake of the classic Disney film (the last Walt actually had a hand in) which was in turn an adaptation of the works of Rudyard Kipling. It is the tale of a human boy called Mowgli who lives in the jungle.
Let’s get this straight, this is a remake of the Disney movie. One cannot pull the old True Grit re-adaptation of original source material argument. Practically every element of this film is taken from the cartoon, with alterations, of course.
A major alteration from the original is its overall theme. The original was pretty much set in the idea from beginning to end that Mowgli’s place was with his own kind in the “man-village”.
Since the sixties, cultural forces have made us consider the possibility, at least in the fantastical world Kipling created, that even with all the obvious dangers, more prevalent and scary in this version, of the jungle, in a way, Darwin’s harsh laws apply even more in the communities of man.
This logic may or may not hold up to us, but at least in this movie, which is told through the eyes of an animal, it holds up surprisingly well.
Speaking of how this story is told, Bagheera, the panther who watches over Mowgli, is, like he was in the other film, the narrator. I do understand where the filmmakers were coming from with the decision to include narration, particularly since it comes from Sir Ben Kingsley and this is the Jungle Book, but I feel it could have been cut in favour of visual exposition.
What has been cut is the idea of this being a musical. Don’t worry, those two insufferably brilliant songs which make you remember the original still remain. The other ones, with the exception of “Trust in Me” (sung by Scarlett Johansson, the new voice of Ka) which is added as a second end-credits song, are completely gone.
This was both a good and a bad decision. Good because hardly anyone actually remembers any of those cut songs and this movie becomes more streamlined without them. For one thing, the Elephants which formed a poor Dad’s Army routine in the other movie are dignified and grand in this one thanks to the fact that they shut their blooming mouths!
On the other hand, when the two songs do show their faces we are reminded with a veritable Klaxon that this is indeed a remake. I was able to tolerate Baloo’s “Bear Necessities” because:
1) It’s a great song.
2) It was able to blend relatively well into the situation in which it was placed.
3) Bill Murray kills it as singer and actor.
However, when Christopher Walken, who is perfectly cast as an enormous and scary, Col. Kurtz like version of King Louie, starts singing (pretty well) part way through a dramatic sentence, it is distracting beyond belief. What’s worse is that he is sitting down while singing the small portion he does sing, making it just really, really awkward.
Moan, moan, moan. What did I like about this film? Actually a few things popped out and not just the excellent 3D.
Firstly, the casting is sublime. From the trailer, when I first heard the animals’ voices, I knew that each of those characters were MADE for their celebrity performers.
Mowgli is played by newcomer Neel Sethi and this kid is going places. He brings this character, who was dumb to an astonishing degree in the original movie to a strong, smart and yet not unrelatable re-interpretation.
Shere Khan, the baddie tiger, is played amicably by Idris Elba. While the original portrayal was on par with Disney’s history of often effeminate and possibly homophobic villains, Elba plays this character with some menace. Khan’s motivation is explained a little too much, I feel, and it’s a bit too specific, but I’ll let that slide. The effect is the same. He hates man. Mowgli is man. He wants Mowgli dead.
The main thing though, the thing that almost makes be able to forgive everything else in this movie, is the way it looks. Every animal is photo-realistic and totally convincing as a character. The jungle looks awesome, particularly in 3D. Mowgli is able to sit in a tree next to a fake Bagheera and a fake Baloo and the uncanny valley is traversed with ease.
Now, one can say that if you’re looking for realism, the cartoon has you covered as the immersion into animation he medium provides let’s all elements be equally and 100% real to the audience.
While I do subscribe to that belief, all I can say is that I walked away from the 2016 Disney version of The Jungle Book with a couple of tunes in my head, a couple of things annoying me (which I have mentioned) and a relatively satisfied feeling of having just been on a Disney ride.
Overall, a good job. Now I’m just going to have to wait till 2018 for Andy Serkis’ version of this movie!
Recommended Scenario: If you want an immersive jungle adventure and Uncharted 4 is too expensive.