A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Written By: Justin Marks
Produced By: Jon Favreau, Brigham Taylor
Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Almost half a century has passed since The Jungle Book was originally released, and thus, in keeping with the ongoing feeling of obligation to remake these timeless classics by modern day studios the world over, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book has come along. A modern retelling of the classic children’s tale with a couple of tweaks thrown in to add a darker edge to the product, the latest incarnation of the beloved piece showcases the very best in voice casting, whilst pioneering some incredible technology that will forever change the world of cinematic animation. It has been said that this is “the most technologically advanced film ever made”.
Ultimately, the cast is wonderful for the most part, as are the visuals and technological achievements overall, however that is all The Jungle Book truly boils down to being, a technological exercise that wows an audience.
A tale about law, acceptance and family, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphan raised by wolves following the death of his father as an infant. Growing up within the jungle, learning how to hunt and survive like an animal, Mowgli’s upbringing and eventual role within the community of various harmonious creatures is nothing untoward. The jungle accepts him as one of their own, except for one.
Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba in his second role as an animated animal in 2016), a vicious and methodical tiger is a firm believer in the law of the jungle and sees no place for Mowgli, particularly as he grows older and stronger.
Khan has a dark history with man and fears for the jungle’s safety as Mowgli inevitably becomes more like his dangerous predatory ancestors, capable of harnessing the jungle’s greatest threat, fire.
From there, Mowgli embarks on an odyssey through the wilderness, evading the ominous and deadly threat, sizeable stampedes and the unforgiving elements of Mother Nature, as well as encountering an enormous grizzly bear; not too dissimilar to the escapades of Leo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass when you think about it.
Appearing at numerous points within the first act like a more family friendly version of The Revenant, the film mercifully refrains from having Baloo (Bill Murray) savagely maul Mowgli half to death, and thankfully establishes a longstanding friendship between boy and beast instead.
Who knows, perhaps Alejandro Iñárritu’s Oscar winning epic simply boiled down to a mere misunderstanding…
Favreau’s vision is stunning at times, even breathtaking with the clarity and realism the new technology achieves. He takes the story though various realms of the jungle, delving through the deep foliage, enormous rock faces, simian temples and mystic, claustrophobic enclosures of a boa constrictor.
The tone shifts rather drastically throughout the picture, changing between dark, joyous, silly and even ominously hypnotic, which brings forth several varying techniques of storytelling. These components seem appropriate, however the seismic shifts can appear rather jarring when analysing the piece as a whole.
The majority of the second act belongs to Baloo, and it’s by far the best portion of the film, mostly due to the exceptional casting and performance of Bill Murray. It seems as if the grizzly bear is Murray’s spirit animal, in particular Baloo. Lazy, funny, kind and aggressive only when utterly necessary, the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of the real life Murray transcend through Baloo, making his interactions with Mowgli and antics in general all the more enjoyable.
As far as an antagonist is concerned, Shere Khan is superbly realised by the creators and Elba himself.
Threatening, dominant and foreboding from the offset, Khan’s motives, history and characteristics are brought out very well, however aside from a snippet or two within the second act of the film, Khan appears to bookend the film by inciting and concluding the narrative.
His presence is felt throughout the entire runtime, however more screen time involving some Shere Khanage, if you will, would have helped the impact of the story at large considerably.
Simple in plot, character development and progression, the film provides a lot of callbacks and homages to the original, occasionally rehashing some of the classic tunes where appropriate.
Yet it’s the darker edge and scarier elements that leave the film with a tonal inconsistency, resulting in it not being a film for the whole family. It’s a good example of jumbled mindset of modern studios feeling both obligated to remake the classics of yesteryear, but simultaneously feeling the need to change it for modern audiences.
The Jungle Book is dark and even frightening at times, which, for all of it’s playful and family-friendly elements, unfortunately renders it inappropriate for particularly younger audiences.
With superbly cast voice actors (with the questionable exception of Chrisopher Walken as King Louie) and a visual aesthetic that pioneers amazing new technology, The Jungle Book is a satisfactory modern retelling of the celebrated and beloved original from fifty years ago.
With the question regarding the overall necessity of the film still lingering, there are elements to take from the it that are highly impressive, yet the inconsistencies in tone, the criminal underuse of talent such as Scarlett Johansson and the lack of antagonist within the heart of the story leave The Jungle Book remake lacking in several areas.
The stylistic advancements it brings to the world of animation are highly impressive, giving off an amazing sense of realism, however it’s the imagination and charm of the original that still reigns supreme.