Monthly Archives: April 2016
The expectations for Jon Favreau’s live-action take of “The Jungle Book” were relatively low. Within the past weeks, I found myself researching and watching as many adaptations under the sun ranging from the 1942 classic with Sabu to Disney’s attempts with the famed 1967 animated classic along with its subsequent live-action take courtesy of Stephen Sommers. At this time, I’m welcome to variety. If a play we know can be re-performed many times with different actors, why not a movie? That’s because there is only one version of that certain take we either grow up on or enjoy. And after seeing the Jungle Book be formed into things like a “Ten Commandments”-style sweeping epic to an Indiana Jones/Tarzan adventure, I’m actually more thankful to see another version take center stage.
Let me get the obvious out of the way. I expected there to be digital effects, but surprised to see how much care was taken to make an actual environment out of it. Truly we are in the day when we can digitally craft a rain-forest from a green screen set. And sadly, it looks convincing. All the while, I felt like I was looking at a full-living and breathing jungle. From watering holes to ancient ruins, it has become apparent that the will to make authentic sets out of a computer and studio space has improved greater than James Cameron’s “Avatar”.
The upgrades to the characters are a nice welcome. We get more of Mogawii’s wolf family and see how much the pack means to them. There’s even a bigger motive behind why Shere Khan (voiced menacingly by Idris Elba) wants to kill the man-cub other than seeing him as a midnight snack. The reason for this tiger’s means of revenge is simple but does hold weight. It almost reminded me of when Don Ciccio wanted to go after little Vito in “Godfather Part II.” When the threat is young, the villain wants to ax him off when he has the right chance.
The source of the material being used is what nearly bugs me. What we get is a hybrid of things ranging from the 1967 animated film being the source. However, they were kind enough to add more material from the Kipling novel. Instead of a weightless adventure, we are treated to a poetic coming of age story while looking at the light and dark views of life. Baloo (voiced hilariously by Bill Murray) envisions a carefree lifestyle while others seek to take control and order like Shere Khan or King Louie. The plot element of “man’s red flower” is given a bigger character here. Instead of a random deus ex machina as in the 1967 version, this version gives more breathing room to see how dangerous this thing can be.
But, wait you cry! What about the story and performances? Weren’t those the most important thing? Well, notice how I tossed around “1967 version” and “some of Kipling’s text” previously. The plot is basically from the original animated tale with Bagheera trying to convince the little man-cub to return to the village. But instead of neglect, it seems the journey keeps getting interrupted by creatures that want to devour Mogawii or use them for their own measures. I actually think this improves over the other take where the two-dimensional Mogawii from the cartoon was more stubborn and keeps wanting to stay. There is a bigger threat at play in this version as the more Mogwaii stays, the more dangerous things become.
Speaking of which, Neel Sethi is a surprisingly good choice for the little man-cub. Not only is he in-tune with nature, but also innovative. There are times when he uses the means of the jungle for simple tasks almost like a mini-MacGyver. Its a welcome character trait that shows he is clever and intelligent. When it comes to obtaining something like a honey comb, we see how the wheels turn in his head while gathering tools from the world around him. It’s almost like Mogawii sees the jungle as his own resource and not of destruction.
The other choices in casting is good too. Bill Murray gives a memorable performance as everyone’s favorite jungle bum, Ben Kinglsey presents a powerful voice to the wise panther, Scarlett Johansson is bone-chilling as Kaa and Idris Elba blew me away owning the role of Shere Khan. The only performance I’m a little iffy on is Christopher Walken as King Louie, an extinct ape that acts like he runs a mafia business. Walken does give a fun performance but it just feels weird seeing his likeness on a monkey.
I guess the final thing to ask is did we really need this version in the first place? Well, at times I did get a vibe where it was trying to pay homage to the 1967 animated classic as the opening logo felt designed much like that version and the movie does end with a book-ending shot (literally) of the same book from the animated version. One can argue it could be a remake of the Disney classic, but there were times when I felt like the improvements did work better than the original. And don’t worry, its still there. As long as you have a copy of the old version on DVD or VHS, it won’t fade away. I can’t say this was a necessary version that demanded to be done. However, I’m surprised to say it was a great improvement.
It can be nice to have another variation of a famed classic as long as it gets done right. In the case of Jon Faveau’s version, it’s a welcome entry. Though, I will admit some things do get glanced over like Kaa’s appearance and some character relationships. But for something that has the charm of the 1967 classic and the beautiful cinematography of the 1942 version, this is one jungle I will visit just as much as the original. On a side note, mothers be warned. Some scenes might be too intense for younger viewers considering this is a much darker take as some animals get killed while others come out of battle with minor injury. I’d say kids 5 and up might be fine but anyone younger are better off with the Disney cartoon. At least when they are older, they will be able to accept the darker version a little better. Hell, it worked for me with the Stephen Sommers version.