Live-action adaptations of significant Disney animated features typically sit between your average superhero-action flick and failed Young-Adult sci-fi romance experiment.
I honestly don’t mind if Disney sees fit to cannibalise its own material. Despite the obvious uselessness of remakes and reinvigorations, we have to judge the final product for what it is and not what we would like to see. Fortunately, its latest adaptation, The Jungle Book, is a notch above the rest and one of 2016’s biggest surprises.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works, the story revolves around orphaned Indian boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a boy inducted into a wolf pack watched over by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Learning to run and fight like them, his training – headed-up by Black Panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) – is nearly complete. Cast out by scarred Sumatran Tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), Mowgli’s adventures in the wild draw him to honey-hungry, forever-cheerful bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Facing threats like Boa Constrictor Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and Orang-utan King Louie (Christopher Walken), Mowgli finds his inner man, beast, and machine.
Post Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, every blockbuster should, at the very least, give us something to smile about. Let’s count our lucky stars; this adaptation is not filled with remorse or hopelessness. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) plays to his strengths. With family flicks (Zathura, Elf), blockbusters (Cowboys & Aliens), and personal projects under his belt, the character-actor/filmmaker/producer extraordinaire efficiently delivers a four-quadrant adventure for brains, brawn, heart, and soul.
However, despite his experience with ensemble casts, the choice to utilise recognisable British and American accents rings hollow. Murray, Walken, and Johansson stick out like porcupine quills.
This live-action/CGI-based reimagining, of 1967’s animated film of the same name, sticks relatively close to the original story. Those in-tune with the original can count down to each plot point: zipping from Mowgli’s origins in the Wolf pack, parting from the group, finding Baloo, and becoming one with the animal kingdom.
Despite following the plot structure almost verbatim, the movie includes its fair share of twists – great and small – on the revered material. Here, rather than sticking entirely to its musical, vaudevillian roots, Favreau balances family-friendly humour with mature themes and concepts. Of course, songs Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You reside.
Along the well-worn journey, this updated, shiny version features an array of interesting geo-political and environmental nuances. Via flashback and dream sequences, the movie presents our lead characters’ most violent and devastating threat. Aptly labelling fire as
the ‘red flower’, the story cleverly draws the line between control and chaos – being responsible for our world or allowing pure devastation to wipe everything out.
Mowgli’s journey makes for the film’s emotional core, discussing whether the ‘man cub’ can fit in wit the system or should venture down a whole new path.
Unquestionably, The Jungle Book contains the most breath-taking and inventive visual effects since Life of Pi. From the opening shot, diverting from 2D animation Disney title card to the gorgeous CGi settings, the world – shot by Matrix cinematographer Bill Pope – is awash of bright, bold colours, unique creations, and awe-inspiring scenic vistas. The animals themselves are jaw-dropping creations, with every facial expression, mannerism, and even strand of fur etched to a painstaking degree. The uncanny-valley effect is here, but the movie’s enthusiasm and warmth overshadow minor flaws.
Despite the occasional flaw, The Jungle Book’s rollicking pace, lived-in atmosphere, and likeable aura make for a fresh, new adventure for some and trip down nostalgia lane for other. Andy Serkis directs and stars in Jungle Book: Origins next year, also featuring Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Words: Thomas Munday