The Legend Will Never Be The Same
Of all the live-action Disney remakes, this is the only one that felt in any way justified. I personally feel they are a misappropriation of talent and rather than simply regurgitating the same beloved stories, we should be working on what will become a new beloved story. But in this instance, Favreau and co have done a stellar job of breathing new life into this classic tale.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli [Sethi] an orphaned boy raised by wolves in the jungles of India, overseen by the panther Bagheera [Kingsley]. During a drought, Shere Khan [Elba] the Begal tiger, threatens the group stating that man does not belong in the jungle and he will return to kill him. To protect his adoptive canine family, Mowgli is taken to the man village and encounters all manner of strange characters along the way.
No matter how faithful this adaptation was to the 1967 animated film or the Rudyard Kipling book/s, people were always going to be unhappy. I believe Favreau has struck a favourable chord between the two by gelling them into something unique while still homaging and referencing the original source materials. In the process, however, it earns its PG certificate by offering us a much darker, tenser and more perilous experience than its predecessor. In doing so, this is easily Jon Favreau’s best film to date, bringing together wonderful visuals, powerful voice acting, a simple driving narrative and clear moral guidelines (stuff like that is important in a family film, otherwise you end up with infinite fart jokes or Batman v Superman). We are also treated to several interesting creative decisions that give the film a timeless feel; the lack of contemporary structures, items of clothing or technology help cement the idea that this story could have taken place at any point during the last several hundred years. Moreover making the character King Louie a giganthopithecus rather than an orangutan adds to the folktale, mythological, fable-like atmosphere.
Making a nice change of pace, this animated film has the luxury of great casting, while avoiding any weak elements. The voice acting and motion capture elements ensure that each animal character is distinctly memorable. Interestingly, not every animal can talk. At one point Mowgli even asks, “Do you have a language?” to a chirping mischievous mammal. In a nice way, this ensures that the film isn’t completely overwhelmed with voices but also amplifies that ‘far from home’ feeling during Mowgli’s journey. Speaking of which, Neel Sethi is a nice find and I’d look forward to seeing him in other releases but I imagine they’ll probably want to retain him for as many Jungle Book sequels as possible before he gets too old for the role. Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Idris Elba are frankly obvious choices and they perform with expected brilliance. My main areas of concern were Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa and Christopher Walken as King Louie. Interestingly, Louie becomes a much more imposing secondary villain (historically fulfilled by Kaa) and trades in his affable jazz-loving persona for a vastly powerful, ambitious head-mobster type. Kaa’s roll is significantly reduced but with a logical sense to it and while I balked at Johansson’s involvement, her alluring and hypnotic portrayal felt reminiscent of her appearance in Under The Skin and proved to be one of the more terrifying moments of the entire film.
Based on the initial trailers, it wasn’t exactly clear whether this would be a flat-out live-action reinterpretation of the Disney original or a faithful repetition. Musically speaking, it’s a bit of both. John Debney’s score fantastically utilises familiar themes as building blocks for the orchestral score and many of the iconic lyrics are reworked as spoken dialogue. Having said that, two songs remain pretty much in tact but are presented in a way that retains the fantasy element without falling into the trappings of a musical. From a visual side of things, The Jungle Book has achieved all manner of wonders. The best use of CGI is when you can’t tell there is any CGI, when you are conned into believing what you are seeing is real – let’s face it, that’s the essence of storytelling via the cinematic medium – and learning that none of the jungle was real is a true testament to talent. Too often these types of films feel like a single character wandering through a computer generated painting and they overtly stand out, ruining the effect. Thankfully this is not the case here and everything bleeds together perfectly.. well.. almost. One of the few negative points to highlight about this movie is where the current technology is pushed as far as possible and starts to come apart at the seams. On two or three occasions (not very many in a feature length film) the motion blur on Mowgli running has played havoc with the animation so a hazy line appears around his form and you start to wake from this beautiful dream and realise it’s all a lie but then the camera remains still and you’re straight back in again. Furthermore, for every interesting, novel or original shot there is one that apes from, of all things, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and The Lion King. I get there are certain methods filmmakers employ time and again to achieve a desired effect or scenario but the execution was so close that it felt blatant. I could also whine about Baloo resembling a brown bear, despite being a sloth bear but I’ll let that slide.. on account of the fact that he can talk.
Overall, this is a delightful family adventure film with clear morals about standing up for what you believe in, standing by your friends and family and the capacity for human ingenuity and harmony with the environment. At the end of the day, when it comes to family entertainment, isn’t that all we can ask for?
15th April 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoiler alluded to within**
Kipling’s original Jungle Book is littered with an imperial air of “nature is something man must conquer.” It’s not always prevalent but it’s certainly present. As time has moved on, we’re now taught to preserve and respect nature and this feels much more in keeping with Indian mythology. As such, the inclusion of the elephants and specifically Mowgli’s intervention at this pit is a nice message for kids without feeling saccharine or preachy.
As mentioned earlier, there are no weak links in the cast, everyone performs expertly. One clear standout, however, is Idris Elba’s Shere Khan. The combination of animal mannerisms, Elba’s motion capture performance and his distinct voice offer an all-round terrifying and gripping villain. As a fan of the 1967 original, I love George Sanders’ sort of Gentleman Killer portrayal but there is something intensely hair-raising and memorable about Elba’s Khan.
“You have never been a more endangered species than you are right now”
In A Few Words:
“It’s very rare that you come across a remake that surpasses the original but The Jungle Book somehow achieves it”