Saturday, April 30, 2016
The Jungle Book (2016)
Plot : Mowgli is a man-cub raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle who tries to learn the ways of the wolf. But when the tiger Sher Kahn comes to the jungle and threatens the pack of wolves for Mowgli's life, Mowgli must venture through the jungle to a man village for his safety. Along the way, he comes across different animals including Kaa the Python, Baloo the Bear and King Louie and his army of monkeys.
This was a smart, well thought of movie. It fully succeeds where Maleficent failed and Cinderella succeeded to an extent in creating a remake of the Disney classic that updates the adaptation to its fullest potential. In fact, it updated its elements so well that many people are saying - and after much thought I am reluctantly agreeing, that this may be better then the animated one. Yes, you read that right. This live-action adaptation of one of Disney's animated classics is better then its predecessor. Is everything done better? No. But the changes are thought out and delivered so well that the story, characters and the world that they live in are actually stronger than the original.
The story is basically the same but with clever additions and subtractions. Shere Kahn has a better explained motivation as to why he wants to kill Mowgli, there's more build up to the dangers of fire or "the red flower", it's not a musical, although two of the songs are played which I will discuss later, and it adds elements from the book that where not in the animated film such as how elephants are highly respected in the jungle. They also strongly establish how dangerous the jungle is. There are moments in the movie that display how the jungle is a place where death is waiting to happen in every corner. Just watching something like an avalanche heading straight toward Mowgli or see the shredded skin of Kaa or watch one of King Louis' giant arms come out of the shadow set the record straight that the danger that this boy is facing is very real whether he realizes it or not. The film also gave Mowgli a serious moral dilemma that I wont give away but I will say helped create a very clever climax.
As much as I love the animated film, the characters are stronger in this version. Shere Kahn for example has a more powerful and intimidating presence. The Shere Kahn in the animated film did little, but he was a menacing villain anyway because there was so much build up to him. He was powerful, ruthless and deadly and everybody but Mowgli knew it and where intimidated because of it. But in this version, he does show off his great strength before we're even a third or so into the movie and it is intimidating. It's a plain but effective example of the power of show don't tell. While Bill Murray as Baloo isn't quite as fun as it was with Phil Harris he still fit the role perfectly and was amusing watch. I never quite understood why Scarlett Johansson was cast as Kaa, but she fit the role alright for the small amount of running time she had. Christopher Walken I think worked very well in voicing King Louie much to the surprise of my brother, Johnathan. And surprisingly the kid that plays Mowgli... is really good. In fact what made him really credible to me was when I watched Jeremy Jahns' review for the movie and he pointed out that the kid is acting with nothing but CGI around him. The fact that some actors - particularly adult actors can fall flat on their face when they're acting with CGI and yet with this kid there is little to no problem whatsoever that it's that I believe that he's interacting with Baloo or the pack of wolves or any of these other animal characters that are completely computer-generated is very impressive. Speaking of interacting with the animal characters, that's another big improvement; Mowgli's relationships with them - particularly the wolves. The Wolves were only there very briefly in the animated but here they play a supporting role in the story and Mowgli's relationship with them appears more genuine than it is in the previous film.
If there is one problem with the movie that isn't necessarily bad but it's definitely the weakest part, it would have to be how they forced in the song I Want to be Like You. The moment that they played it when Mowgli is talking to King Louie made almost no sense for two specific reasons: 1) there wasn't much of us setup for the song as opposed to when Baloo and Mowgli are singing Bear Necessities. With Bear Necessities, they set it up by discussing how Mowgli had never heard of a song before, and used that for when they do sing the song a couple of scenes later. But I Want to be Like You had little to no reason to be in this non-musical film apart from the fact that it's King Louie's song, so it kind of felt like it came right out of nowhere. 2) It didn't fit with the movements of King Louie. King Louis moves very slow because he's such a giant ape, that's fine in terms of what makes the CGI so great in capturing the movements and the like ability of the animals. But by doing so, it completely missed the energy and emotion of the song. I Want to Be Like You is a fun upbeat song and yet King Louie is very slowly moving around mostly sitting in one spot. He throws around fruit and ancient treasure during the second half, but at that point the deed was already done.
And that's my review for The Jungle Book. The animated version still has a place in my heart, but this film is such a big upgrade that it pointed out the problems with its predecessor that I never noticed before. This take on Disney's The Jungle Book took what was so beloved about the original and added more development to the story, characters, the dangers of the jungle and so on that I reluctantly have to agree that it is the better movie. I'll still watch the animated movie more than this one, but if you have not seen this film, it's worth checking out.