The Jungle Book

 photo jungle_book_ver6_zpsanfpdshe.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgBy now, Disney’s live action remakes of their classics have become so familiar, they constitute their own genre. There are at least 15 currently in the development stage. We’ve already seen Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella. Say hello to their latest: The Jungle Book. When adjusted for inflation, the original remains their 5th highest grossing animated film of all time following Snow White, 101 Dalmatians, The Lion King and Fantasia. The 1967 film has the legacy of a beloved treasure. This new version is fun too, a vivid spectacle for modern viewers.

What The Jungle Book gets right is in the construction. It’s gorgeous. The production places the viewer right in the forests of India. The cinematic display of flora and fauna is rather breathtaking at times. The visual tableau is a optical wonder to experience. This accomplishment makes the ultimate realization that everything was actually filmed on a Los Angeles sound stage,  fairly shocking. In fact, save for young actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli, there is little if anything organic on screen. This is a high-tech CGI curiosity to be sure in 2016.  What truly makes the 1967 cartoon endure is that emotional component.  This prodcution is fastiduously composed but it’s missing that spark.

This is essentially a CGI copy of their hand drawn gem. Baloo (Bill Murray), Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Shere Khan (Idris Elba), Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (Christopher Walken) are all here. Like the animated film, the animals talk. They even sing. “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” both make an appearance. “Trust in Me” plays over the closing credits. There are adjustments, however. The animals have a decidedly more noble quality that sets them apart from the lighthearted buffoonery of the cartoon. Here King Louie is the much larger Gigantopithecus, a species now extinct, instead of an orangutan. Please! Those are not native to India, thank you very much. Kaa, formerly male, is now voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Sterling Holloway was a memorable Kaa, but I dare say Johansson makes the character her own. Her seductive voice is positively hypnotizing. When she tells Mowgli a story, I was captivated. I wanted to hear more.

The Jungle Book is hampered by a narrative that can be reduced to “boy outwits tiger”. Rudyard Kipling’s book was a collection of tales in fact, as opposed to a sustained novel. Both the animated and live-action versions adhere to a series of vignettes where Mowgli interacts with various characters. While the cartoon was quite whimsical, with a referential eye toward the pop culture of its era, this adaptation is more realistic. Well except that the animals speak, obviously. But the intensity level is heightened. Mowgli is placed in more peril as the ferocity of Shere Khan is intensified. Buoyancy is replaced by darkness. These tweaks serve to distinguish this from the original, but the largely cosmetic changes don’t really elevate the production. They merely “correct” it. As such, The Jungle Book is indeed a technological marvel of our time. It’s a stunningly realized environment for families to appreciate and enjoy. Most assuredly an impressive accomplishment for today’s audiences. But will it achieve immortality as a classic 50 years from now? I have my doubts.

04-14-16

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21 Responses to “The Jungle Book”

  1. You give high praise but only rate it 3 stars. I wonder why not a 4?

    • Three stars is still a recommendation (but barely I admit). High praise for the visuals perhaps, “a high-tech CGI curiosity” but I was rather negative on the story: “…the largely cosmetic changes don’t really elevate the production. They merely “correct” it.” I end on a pretty sour note too: “Will it achieve immortality as a classic 50 years from now? I have my doubts.”

  2. There is something to be said about modern films, remakes or not, having a hell of a challenge when it comes to establishing the roots of cinematic legacy. I think I agree with you generally that Favreau’s film will not stand up after 50 years, not like Reitherman’s has anyway, but of course only time will tell. I really really loved this actually. My ex0erience was that this was very much the animated version, only with live action and a more brutal sense of survival.

    • “…very much the animated version, only with live action…” is an apt description. I was constantly reminded of the 1967 movie because this is so similar. Maybe the filmmakers could’ve staked a new course.

      On one level, these are petty grumblings, because this is just supposed to be silly fluff. It’s just that there is an odd disconnect between having such lifelike realistic looking animals but then have them talk and sing. It’s technically pristine but emotionally lacking. I was impressed but not moved.

  3. Definitely worth the watch for the visuals, as well as the heart. Nice review Mark.

  4. I really have little desire to see this, mainly for reasons like you stated. But, I feel like I need to watch, if only because the visuals could possibly be the best of the year. Might even do so in 3D.

    • Whenever a film does $100 million – just in its opening weekend alone (Deadpool, Batman v Superman) – I almost feel obligated to see it, if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss is about. Last year, 6 movies did this. With rising ticket prices and 3D, it’s becoming easier. Maybe I should up the plateau to $200 million soon. 😉

  5. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Nice job. I like you enjoyed the film for the visuals and strong vocal performances. But for me it lagged in the middle and the songs didnt really work. I personally like Cinderella best. I agree with you that I think this film will be more remembered for the theatrical experience more than the movie itself

    • There wasn’t much story. 90 minutes would’ve sufficed.

      Cinderella is the gold standard. Improved upon the animated tale, which was very cute. The mice were a major focus of the story in the original. The live action version captivated my emotions even more.

  6. martin1250 Says:

    Great review! I didn’t know that most of the jungle is done with CGI. That’s amazing because it isn’t obvious. I thought this movie was terrific. Not perfect, because it ran a bit too long, but a solid recommendation for all audiences.

  7. Wasn’t the greatest. However, it looks amazing. Is that enough to remember it later, probably not. I thought the little boy was good. Songs were done ok, but didn’t have the same magic as the cartoon. 3 1/2 stars.

  8. I think this version betters the original. It feels like a better story rather than just single tales held together thinly. The characters feel better established too. I think it will be remembered as a classic.

    • That’s fair. I think a lot has to do with age. I saw the animated original when I was 7. I fell in love with it. It would be hard for a live action remake to top that experience.

  9. For some reason I never got around to seeing The Jungle Book while it was in theaters. I’ve heard it’s gorgeous, so I’m not surprised to see you praise its fastidious composition. Although I’m a little disappointed to hear that its tweaks to make the narrative more realistic don’t really elevate it. I’ll probably catch it at some point, but I’m not in a rush.

    • It came out in the Spring, the same season as Zootopia. Both performed like summer releases. Actually, they were even bigger hits than most of those films.

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