The Jungle Book (2016)
PG. Look at that. I'm sure that someone saw a live action movie and fought desperately for PG-13, but the Disney logo at the beginning helps people keep their heads. That said, if I showed this movie to my two-year-old, I'm sure he'd forget his potty training really quick.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
Let's set one thing straight right now: We are never getting another Swingers. Jon Favreau is just another dude now. He made Chef a few years ago to keep his indie filmmaker cred, but that wasn't the same. I really hope that it is because he's just at a different place in his life. The idealist in me says that Chef is an example of growth as a person and as a director. But the tiny pessimist in me worries that Hollywood success has changed his voice. But I got Iron Man and the MCU out of it, so I can sacrifice the director of Made to that pyre.
Disney has been pushing the live action adaptation of their animated classics. I don't...get it? The movies are always solid and their a fun watch, but they really don't have the same staying power as their original creations. I weirdly read a bunch on the making of this movie a while ago, mostly because I wondered how Favreau would approach a full-on kids movie. Favreau played the card of saying that they were paying homage to the original movie while respecting the original Kipling story. I thought that was cool and, for the most part, I think he pulls it off. That statement was as true as I can imagine a live action Disney adaptation can do. If that was his goal, he did it with bells on. But my big questions is...
After seeing Cinderella and The Jungle Book, there is so little that is original. Not to tie Vince Vaughan into this whole mix being a Favreau joint and all, it reminds me of the Gus Van Sant versions of Psycho. There is a certain slavish attitude that accompanies such a fawning of its own work. It is more of a challenge in adaptation than it is in creating something new. Remake, for the most part, has been associated with "why?" We go to movies to at least pretend that cinema presents a new voice. Yeah, everything is a copy of something else, but I like to pretend to be surprised. But while watching The Jungle Book, I was thinking "They better sing 'The Bear Necessities' or I'm outie 5000." I'm sorry that my inner monologue will always be linked to late '90s lingo, but I'm an independent gentleman who writes on a blog for funsies. Your move. I acknowledge that remakes have to pay tribute to the original rather than establishing an independent spirit and voice. That seems cheap and yet there is something that we need to see. So maybe this isn't a Disney thing but a remake thing. Disney presents the best of the remake, but I guarantee in five years time that no one is going to be preaching The Jungle Book. We're on the verge of getting Beauty and the Beast and I think we're more excited to see Emma Watson sing rather than care about the movie itself.
I love the voice cast of this movie. I'm always hesitant to see Bill Murray attached to a children's movie. I love the story about why Murray made the Garfield movies. (He mistook the "Cohen Brothers" for the "Coen Brothers." The Coen Brothers making a Garfield movie warms my heart.) I know that he is infamous for phoning in performances rather than be vulnerable often. I kept wondering, "Is he making fun of me for liking his portrayal of Baloo?" which is not the best way to enjoy a movie. I liked him a lot for that part. And it wasn't because it was Bill Murray. Baloo was kind and gentile. I think the song was a bit of a concession on Murray's part, even though he does enjoy singing most of the time. I also super dig Idris Elba in everything. He makes a scary bad guy and I could almost see his choices in the tiger's face. Yes, that's on me and not on him. The weirdest choice was Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. I'm not saying a woman couldn't play Kaa because I think that's a cool choice. But Kaa plays such a minor part in this movie and I didn't see anything in particular that Johansson tried adding to the part besides one of the most straightforward deliveries I'd ever seen. Maybe she was going for scary as opposed to the playful Kaa of the original, but I was unimpressed. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is awesome and I'll say why. It's the one voice where I forgot who was voicing him and just heard Bagheera. That's what it should have been all around. His was the most internalized and I thought that was great. And Walken is Walken.
Let's talk the kid. Neel Sethi as Mowgli has to hold the movie. He does. I also don't like crapping on kids in nearly impossible situations. I saw the pre-CG footage of this movie and it is straight up goofy. So there are moments --I can't deny it --that the kid comes across as absolutely silly. But I also then remove all the digital wizardry in my head and remember...oh yeah, he's talking to a green ninja on a green set with a laser to where he's supposed to look. Trained actors have a hard time with that. So he pulls it off...as best as he can.
Considering that this movie is up for the award for special effects, I feel like I need to comment on it. (Also, because this review is running a little short and I got my two cents out about it.) I want to moan about CG and how it is taking over Hollywood, but it is very impressive. But I also feel like CG is only as good as its weakest moment. 95% of this movie is golden. It is pretty immersive, but there are moments. And those are the moments where things start falling apart. It's where the string on the fabric is hanging loose. I'm thinking back to the special editions of Star Wars. (Don't break your computer! I'm allowed to pick the low hanging fruit.) I remember being in the theater and being awestruck by a lot of the special effects. But there were moments. And in those moments, everything lost its cohesion. I now can't unsee the weak moments. I griped about this with Rogue One and Jungle Book has a bit of that. That image above of Baloo is unfortunate for that very reason. The cats and the wolves look great. Baloo is a digital suit. I know it isn't bad, but coming back to this over time will prove unfortunate.
The movie is fun and scary. Jon Favreau has proven that he can hold the reigns of a big budget blockbuster. But the movie could be the best, but it will always be subject to its predecessor. I don't love that. I want something new and original and this is just a sacrifice to the altar of the past.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.