The Jungle Book (2016)

junglebook_2016_poster
  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | Family
  • Director: Jon Favreau
  • Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Storyline:

The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

4 reviews

  • Special effects and CGI are so prevalent in films nowadays, so commonplace that it is all too easy to take them for granted. Even viewers heavily inured to all the technological wizardry on display in the past decade may experience a frisson of disbelief at viewing the title card included at the close of Disney’s live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. “Filmed in downtown Los Angeles,” it reads and, looking back upon the spectacularly and meticulously rendered jungle setting and talking animals, one may be inclined to believe in magic.

    The only real thing in the whole enterprise is Neel Sethi, an energetic and often empathetic find as Mowgli, the 10-year-old boy raised by wolf couple Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) after being discovered abandoned in the jungle by the wise black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Screenwriter Justin Marks hews close to the template set by Disney’s 1967 animated classic: Mowgli is admonished by Bagheera for using human “tricks” instead of following the ways of the pack. A dry season forces all of the animals into a “water truce,” where predators and prey set aside their differences and drink side-by-side from the only water source, and where everyone is able to view Mowgli the man-cub for the first time.

    Danger arrives in the form of Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who, having been burned by the “red flower” (the animals’ term for fire), deems Mowgli a threat. The boy will grow up to be a man and man always destroys everything around him, Shere Khan warns and demands that the boy be handed over to him. When Mowgli is sent off for his safety, Shere Khan vows that all the animals shall suffer his wrath until Mowgli is surrendered to him. It should be noted that Elba makes for a fearsome Shere Khan, chilling the spine and running one’s blood cold with his serene menace. Though a fierce warrior, he can frighten even more with his stillness – watch as he approaches Akela before lounging beside him on a rock, or how he gathers Raksha’s cubs for story time.

    Elba is a prime example of how director Jon Favreau has married actor to character. The animators behind all the animals deserve years of applause for how unnervingly real all the creatures appear and behave. Their gestures, whether it be a twitch of a tail or the tilt of the head – are natural and their personalities are well etched. Yet all of the craftsmanship would be for naught were it not for the superb work done by all of the actors, and what Favreau has done so cleverly is to have the actors play the character but also be themselves. One only has to look at Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie to see how effective this decision is.

    Walken makes King Louie one of those old-time New York gangsters from the Prohibition Era. It’s a bizarre delight to have him sing-speak the staple, “I Wan’na Be Like You,” his vaudevillian stylings at odds with the Kurtz-like facade of King Louie. Who else but Walken could spin gold out of such an incongruity? And who else but Murray could have been Baloo, the honey-obsessed bear who counters Bagheera’s strict teachings with a more leisurely, but no less well-meaning, approach? Brimming with bonhomie and endearing in his manipulations, Murray’s Baloo may arguably be the best performance of his entire career.

    The film does have its faults – it drags at times and the bond between Mowgli and his various parental figures is not as strongly forged as it could have been. Both the camerawork and the editing can tend to the overcaffeinated. Nuance and subtext have been sacrificed, which hampers the tale’s thematic resonance. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the film’s many pleasures, which far outnumber its weaknesses.

    Parents, be forewarned: the film is far darker than its PG rating would suggest. Shere Khan is not the only malevolent figure; there is also Kaa the snake (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who also breathlessly croons “Trust in Me” over the end credits), whose seemingly endless length and wide open jaws may disturb a little one’s sleep.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5)

    THIS FILM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: Superb CGI upstages reality in Disney’s version that takes this simple tale of self-discovery and turns it into a lively action adventure for the whole family, although some scenes may be too intense for the younger crowd.
     
    GRADE: B+

    SYNOPSIS: A man/cub journeys to his own species, with many detours along the way.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Disney Studio’s latest reboot, a live action film of its 1967 animated feature, The Jungle Book, did not skimp on its budget. No bare necessities here, unless you count its ill-fitting pop song inclusion into this modernized version. Just plenty of impressive state-of-the art CGI and eye-popping production values.
    No animals were hurt in the making of this film because none were used, although the photo-realistic details can easily make any moviegoer lose their grip on reality. The CGI is stunning (as is the 3-D IMAX special effects). Reason enough to see this spectacle on the big screen, the bigger the better!

    The story, loosely based only on some chapters in Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphan who is adopted by wolves and learns the law of the jungle. This man/cub is perfectly happy with his existence until an evil tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba) wants to exact revenge and kill him. So to protect himself and his four-legged family members, it’s off to live with his own kind, with the help of a black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to serve as his guide. Along the way, Mowgli befriends a sly and laid-back bear, Baloo (Bill Murray), meets a dangerous python, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson, in an all-too-brief appearance) and an extremely large orangutan who goes by the name of King Louie (Christopher Walken), a character that never appeared in the Kipling’s novels.

    As long as the story remains close to Kipling’s book, the film radiates with undeniable tension and joy, with many action sequences brimming with excitement and suspense. But too often the film wants to soften the story with too many sweet Disney touches reminiscent of the earlier animated film. The tone shifts erratically and so does the impact of the film. (Adding a few recognizable songs gives the film a gentle but jarring effect, especially in the King Louie segment and the overt hints of The Godfather mobster genre makes the King look more like The Don, a misstep in an enchanting movie. (This may have worked better in a cartoon, but this parody harms the gravitas as a live action film.)

    Jon Favreau’s direction is solid and he excels with the visual look of the film and its well-staged action. The screenplay by Justin Marks is best when little is spoken and more is seen. While The Jungle Book may have moments of second-rate storytelling, it is first class in the visual department. The film is a technical marvel with special mention going out to the production design by Christopher Glass and Abhijeet Mazumder, the fine editing by Mark Livolsi, and the luscious cinematography by Bill Pope. The aforementioned CGI creates real life characters by blending the animals’ facial expressions with the physical look of each animal group, personalizing each creature with highly detailed textures of fur, scales, or rough skin tones that are astounding in their artistry and execution.

    Acting-wise, the animals also win hands-down (or paws-down). Young Mr. Sethi plays Mowgli and while he is not a natural born actor, he is physically perfect for the role. (However, some of his line delivery is less than memorable.) The voiceover work by everyone involved is perfection, with Mr. Murray and Mr. Elba adding that necessarily right shade of humor and menace to their roles, respectively.

    The Jungle Book is wonderful family fare with a definite adult in mind. But be forewarned that some scenes are too graphic and violent for a very young child to experience. (8 years or older seems the ideal age for the targeted moviegoer.) Obviously there is expected death and peril during Mowgli’s journey to self-discovery. After all, it’s a jungle out there.

    NOTE: Be sure to stay for the end credits, a delightful mix of CGI and hand-drawn animation with songs which do not intrusively ruin the rhythm of the film. This is where they most effectively belonged.

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  • With Hollywood updating, rebooting and remaking past movies all the more frequently now, one would think to take note of how Disney has done it thus far. At least from what has been presented, it seems that the producers of Disney have figured out a way to revamp their old properties into live-action territory and maintain the hype about them. Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967) has remained one of the most popular family children films around, most notably for its comedy, simple story, memorable characters and catchy music. So who would have the credentials in order to jumpstart the movie and do the original justice. Enter Jon Favreau, a director but mainly actor who earned his stars by igniting what people now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man (2008). Favreau also directed Elf (2003), a holiday film that also has a strong fan base. To have Favreau again starting another series feels appropriate. The real question is though, does he do it right? Mostly yes.

    The screenplay was written by Justin Marks, who surprisingly only wrote for one other theatrical production. That film was Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009), so it is very surprising how well this story was crafted compared to Mr. Marks last effort. For the most part, the story setup is the same. Abandoned man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found by the panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and has him raised by the wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). But one day, Shere Khan (Idris Elba) the tiger notices Mowlgi’s presence and demands he is rid of. From there, it’s up to Bagheera and another friend named Baloo (Bill Murray) the bear to get him back to the man village. Aside from plot, there are some added layers to the characters and their motivations. Shere Khan, Akela and Raksha receive much more development in their relationship to Mowlgi. Meanwhile, Bagheera and Baloo remain likable and well developed in their main roles.

    The only character who doesn’t have a significant presence is Kaa played by Scarlett Johansson. Kaa in this film is more a plot device than any other use, but the knowledge that she also has comes into question. How did she know where Khan got his scars from? Was she there when it happened? Another weird thing is that only some animals in the jungle can communicate with Mowlgi. Why can’t the elephants, vultures or monkeys? Then again, the reason why this is called the “jungle book” and why a bear is in a jungle never made sense either even for the original. Christopher Walken plays King Louie and at certain times rips off The Godfather (1972) and himself. Just for fun, Favreau, Russell Peters and even Sam Raimi have small voice roles. When it comes to voice work (and acting) though, everyone performs well. Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is a great child actor and looks seriously engaged in his role. For some voice actors though, there could have been better choices.

    As stated before all voice actors do very well though. The best actor who fit his role was Ben Kingsley as Bagheera. Kingsley is no Sebastian Cabot but he gets very close. Scarlett Johansson as Kaa in replace of Sterling Holloway was a unique choice too. Johansson’s voice makes Kaa sound even more seductive than before with her hypnotic eyes. Both Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o make their characters likable too with their calm performances. The only two characters who probably could have been cast better were surprisingly Baloo and Khan. Since this movie supposed to be grounded in tone, having Elba as Khan is understandable. Unfortunately, Elba misses some of the class George Sanders gave in his performance as Khan. For Murray, it’s obvious that he wanted to lighten the mood but that shouldn’t include his voice. Phil Harris fit Baloo very well, and even though it’s not as popular, John Goodman from The Jungle Book 2 (2003) would’ve been a better choice.

    In spite of this though, the visuals were on point in this film. The special effects were groundbreaking with the amount of detail that went into each animal. Even for a 2D viewing, the animals look as though one were at a petting zoo. That’s how authentic the pelts of these animals look. The layering from the furs to the jungle surroundings is just breathtaking. The director of photography was Bill Pope, the same man behind Darkman (1990), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Men in Black 3 (2012), The Matrix (1999) and its sequels. Every shot, whether it’s a clear or rainy day, every scene has the right lighting. Composing the film score was John Debney. Having worked with Favreau before, this is a natural pairing. Debney easily morphs the 1967 original themes into a much bigger sound and bravado. The only two songs to actually be sung by characters are “Bear Necessities” and “I Want to Be Like You”, but this is only for a brief time. Definitely not as lengthy as the original.

    One would think that rebooting beloved classics is a risky choice. However, Jon Favreau showed many were wrong. The writing is just as equally flawed in some places like its original but it still has an enjoyable story. More thought could have been put into casting the voices for certain characters but it’s not a huge issue. The robust film score, acting, special effects and camerawork really shine in this live-action reboot.

    Points Earned –> 7:10

  • “No matter where you go or what they may call you, you will always be my son.”

    Of all fairy tales adaptations I’ve seen so far (“Maleficent”, “Snow white and the huntsmen” and “Jack the giant slayer”), this animated movie (it looks lifelike but it consists mainly out of groundbreaking digital animations) is the the most dazzling one. I don’t want to sound too excited and shower Jon “Chef” Favreau with all the superlatives that I can think of for his directing work of , but in short this film was fantastic. Not only did this film throw me back to my childhood when my innocent eyes wandered over a large picture book and sympathized with the little Mowgli (Neel Sethi). But as an adult, I also stared at this beautiful film dumbfounded.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this restyled Disney version and I can’t think of a single thing to criticize. Everything looks lifelike. The jungle and overall scenery made out of millions of pixels, is phenomenal. The inhabitants of this jungle look stunning. At times I doubted whether they were digital creations or the real thing. Even their character traits are conforming. And in between all these animal activities, one single human creature moves around. Looking at it afterwards you can easily say this was a superhuman performance of this little guy. Because successfully navigating in between these digitally created fellow players wasn’t easy I reckon. In terms of empathy, this young lad thrills. It’s not only the design department who’ll walk away with the honors. It’s also the character study and the perfect mix of action and philosophical, emotional moments that make it appealing to all ages. The boundary of creepiness wasn’t exceeded (my daughter thought it was terribly exciting though) and it isn’t really childish at the same time. I honestly have to admit that during the wonderful scene with Mowgli and Baloo singing “The Bare Necessities”, I had to wipe away an upcoming tear. Pure nostalgia.

    The movie hardly deviates from the original, well-known story so to speak. According to me the only part that differs was the denouement. In my youth book, lightning struck a tree and Mowgli drove out the terrible and dangerous Shere Khan with a burning branch. Also some new features are introduced. The daily life of the pack of wolves is illustrated in detail. Certain laws were incorporated into the story such as “The Water Truce” that takes effect the moment a terrible drought occurs. And here and there are some amusing additions like the favor Mowgli does for Baloo during which he uses his human ingenuity to solve the problem. The comments of the agitated, little animals on the whole operation was extremely hilarious. And there are some masterful scenes in this film. I was most impressed about the chapter in the beautifully rendered temple where a colossal King Lowie reigns.

    Not only a lot of energy was put into the visual aspect, but also in the voice cast. It felt like all voices of the elected actors fit perfectly with their characters. To bring this to a successful conclusion, they chose renowned actors: Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) en Christopher Walken (King Louie). I was most impressed by Christopher Walken who apparently also has a very firm singing voice. The most amusing was that of Bill Murray. Not because of his timbre of course, but because of the textual content. So, nothing but praises for this embellished Disney Classic. Perhaps the movie isn’t as enchanting as the original and the end result is a more exciting and darker version. I’d be glad when Disney would dig out the other classics, dust them off and transform them into such a visual spectacle as this wonderful film.

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