The Jungle Book (2016) – Review

“THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)”

49 Years after the film first came out, Disney has remade The Jungle Book again. Yes, be honest, all of you forgot that the 1994 live action remake even existed and if any of you are thinking about tracking it down now to see what it was like, don’t, it’s not very good and it’s really expensive. In preparation for this viewing I was really surprised to find out how many people really like The Jungle Book. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it, I just think it’s a rather bland film that doesn’t really have that much happening in it. That’s hardly surprising considering that the film was not largely based on the Rudyard Kipling book, in fact Walt Disney famously gave a copy of the book to all of him animators and told them not to read it. So with the idea that they were working with the bare minimum of the book they didn’t really have much to go on. This film doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any closer to the book, though most of my knowledge of the book comes from second hand sources, I haven’t actually read the book myself. I still think The Jungle Book is a good film, I just don’t think it’s a great film and I think more people have taken it into their hearts because it was the last film that Walt Disney worked on before his death. By the way, if you really are wanting a version that is closer to the book Chuck Jones did a 30 minute short that was a lot closer, mainly because from what I have heard the book is a collection of short stores and Mowgli only appears in a third of them.

Even with all that, I was still genuinely interested to go and see this film, mainly by the bizarre pairing of the creative team. The director is Jon Favreau who many will recognise for directing films like the first 2 Iron Man’s, the largely disappointing Cowboys and Aliens and the surpassingly good Indie film chef, which I really would recommend. John Favreau is a really good director, but the screenplay really has been written by Justin Marks whose name won’t sound familiar because the only feature length script he has written before this is Street Fighter, the Legend of Chun Li and my goodness is that film bad! We’re talking ‘should be in every top ten worst video game movies’ bad. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt especially considering he must be a least a decently talented screen play writer considering he has got several writing jobs coming up, including writing the Top Gun sequel and the film adaptation of Shadow of Colossus, or at least he did, it seems that he has been replaced later down the line (I’m guessing someone in the production department saw Street Fighter The Legend of Chun Li and figured we don’t need him to mess it up!!) I wasn’t sure what to make of this film. It’s also rather badly timed considering that Andy Serkis will be bringing out another Jungle Book movie similar to this in 2018, though judging by the cast list of that film, I was more confident in the cast of this film because it’s an all star cast of actors I really like, but when all that is said and done, does this Jungle Book live up to people’s expectations of the original or is it a let down.

I think most people reading this will be familiar with the story of The Jungle Book, but just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, I will give a brief plot synopsis.

Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) has lived in the jungle his whole life, raised by a wolf pack and the panther Bagheera (played by Ben Kingsley). He is now being hunted by the tiger Shere Khan (played by Idris Elba) and must make his way with Bagheera to the man village to be protected and along the way he meets several animals of the jungle such as Baloo the bear (played by Bill Murray), Kaa the snake (played by Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (played by Christopher Walken). That was the basic plot of the 1967 movie and nothing much has changed here.

The Jungle Book is the second in a series of live action remakes of Disney films, third if you count Tim Burton’s take of Alice In Wonderland, it also has to follow on from Kenneth Brannagh’s Cinderella which came out last year which I rather enjoyed more than I was expecting to and will be followed by Beauty And The Beast which I wouldn’t get your hopes up for because it’s going to be directed by the same guy who directed Twilight and The Little Mermaid, which I am also not going to get my hopes up about because the screenplay is being written by Richard Curtis, who is a mixed writer at the best of times and really can’t resit a happy ending. However, after this film, I think I should actually raise my expectations for these two films because John Favreau does a really good job with this film. He and Justin Marks know exactly what to keep, take out and expand upon. There are quite a few subtle changes to keep you guessing in one form or another. These range from minor changes to really massive ones and I won’t go into detail about all of them for fear of spoilers, but trust me, this is not a straight copy of the 1967 animated movie, but it hasn’t changed so much that it is completely unrecognisable. One of the early differences is the fact that Mowgli is a lot more accepting of having to leave the pack and seek protection and it’s because he realised that it will also protect the people he loves. This makes Mowgli a much more relatable protagonist than the 1967 movie where he was a bit of a whiny brat. The biggest strength, however, is the fact that this film feels much more like it has a running plot whilst the 1967 film felt more like it was darting around between them. Don’t get me wrong, some of these moments feel quite random, the encounter between King Louie for example is still rather out of nowhere and feels like it was just put in because it was in the original film and book and to fill out the running time, but at least this one feels entertaining and at least we feel like we are following a single plot. The characters also seem to be very recognisable as well, some of them feel like they have a slight upgrade, Mowgli especially. Honestly the only real weaknesses of the plot are the things they had to carry over from the first film. The songs, the various set pieces as well as various other factors surrounding the ending which has been slightly changed in this version, however, Favreau knows that some of those moments need to be cut down. For example, the Elephants are largely absent from the film, they don’t take up as much screen time as they did in the 1967 version, seriously, that was the most boring part of the 1967 version and it just went on and on, this one just keeps the Elephants for a bare minimum and they service the plot a lot better in this version. Likewise Kaa doesn’t outstay her welcome in this version and isn’t pointlessly recycled later on in the plot. They also managed to find a way to make the Mowgli and Shere Khan rivalry feel a lot more personal, granted one factor about this feels very cheap but the other factor definitely helps it and really strengthens Shere Khan as a villain who feels a lot more frightening in this version. Speaking of which, I know King Louie was a bit of an antagonist in the animated movie, but in this movie, oh my goodness he is a full on villain and he can be quite threatening and scarey. Seriously, anyone who has actually seen the film will know what I am on about. However, this plot feels a lot more engaging, it feels like this one has been made a lot more for the adults and millenials who grew up with the animated film than it does for today’s younger audience. Don’t get me wrong, there will be some kids that will enjoy this film and the kids in my screening seemed to be happy with it, however, it does feel like this was made to capitalise on people’s nostalgia for the previous film. The expansions of all the parts especially Mowgli’s relationship with the wolf pack will resonate very well with nostalgic audience members that grew up with the previous film and I think there’s a lot there for that crowd. What I also enjoyed about this film is that it felt fun a lot of the time, it didn’t have a dark gloomy look throughout the film or try to do too many twists on the story and whenever it did kind of do a twist it felt like it had modernised it well. The scenes with Mowgli and Baloo still feel very fun, if a bit brief and I really felt more for Mowgli and Bagheera’s relationship in this one, plus we spent more time with the wolves which is especially good for adaptation points considering they were virtually absent in the 1967 version, and from what I have heard they play a prominent part in the book. I think this plot will satisfy the kids watching this film but I think it will satisfy their parents even more and seriously I really think this is a fun movie and I would recommend it for the story alone.

The cast, however, is what really drew me to this film and everyone is really well cast. Ben Kingsley brings his A game with Bagheera and Bill Murray is really perfect as Baloo, falling into Phil Harris’s role almost perfectly. Scarlett Johansson feels a bit of a weird casting choice as Kaa but at least it’s not as creepy as Stirling Holloway doing the role in the previous film. Yes, if you thought Kaa was creepy in 1967 keep in mind the voice of that snake is also the voice of Winnie The Poo, yes, never going to be able to watch that scene the same again are you! The expanded roles of Raksha and Akela, Mowgli’s wolf parents are played by Lupita Myong’o and Giancarlo Esposito respectively and they really suit their roles very well, especially Lupita who really sells her mothering instinct. Christopher Walken is kind of reduced to a cameo, but he really suits the role of Louie well, especially playing the sort of mad mobster of the Jungle, he is also the most recognisable in the motion capture effects and we definitely see through him as the voice actor for this role more that we do for other cast members, with the possible exception of Idris Elba. Speaking of him, Idris Elba, once again has made a really good villain, sure he doesn’t have the thespian acting voice of George Sanders, but he does give it his all and he comes off as a really threatening villain, I would say, when he was cast, he suited the part almost perfectly and he lived up to my expectations, but by far the best actor in the film was Neel Sethi, who has the difficult task of not only acting this iconic part and making it his own, but he also has to act with CGI animals that are going to be added in later, and he makes it look effortless. This kid could easily have been thrown off with this role, but he does an excellent job and considering he has never acted in a feature film prior to this he does it really well. Seriously, look out for this kid, I think he has an excellent future ahead in this business. As I mentioned, the celebrity voices are kind of distracting and you can almost hear them in the recording booth, but it’s not as distracting as in other movies, like Shrek or even worse Shark Tale. The all star cast are also worth the price of admission.

The effects and the cinematography is the area where this film really shines. They are both excellent. The animals actually look like animals and they blend into the backgrounds, which by the way, all look beautiful, but John Favreau also manages to make the Jungle seem very savage at times. The motion capture effects are pretty well done and the animals seem like they fit in the environment, plus they don’t seem to stick out with Neel Sethi who is the only live action actor in the entire film, further proving how well he plays his role. The designs are also really fantastic, especially the new castle for King Louie, I should also mention that this film has a terrific music score which really sells the film and I would suggest if you actually collect film soundtracks, this is another to add to your collection. As for the songs from the original film, most of them have been cut, with the exception of ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘Want To Be Like You’, which, lets face facts, are the only two songs you will remember. Seriously, name one in the comments section right now that was in the original apart from those two, and no looking it up on Google. These new versions of the songs, however, don’t feel like they intrude too much on the plot and at least are done well though people may be put off by the alternate lyrics that have been written by Richard Sherman due to Louie’s new design and some different terminology for fire that’s used in this film. Christopher Walken who is doing an especially over the top performance as Louie, whilst also selling him as a threatening character, does an excellent job with ‘Wanna Be Like You’. Bill Murray is a bit ropey with ‘Bare Necessities’, but he at least performs it pretty well, though I still think people are going to remember the originals a lot better. If you are expecting some Beatle’s impersonators to be the vultures, I’m sorry to say they are barely in the movie and they don’t talk.

I saw the film in 3D and you know what, for once, I am actually going to recommend you see it in 3D. I would also recommend if you are near an IMAX theatre go and see it in that format because the effects and the cinematography really pop out under that environment. It’s not essential to see 3D but it’s actually a really good 3D and it’s worth the extra money for the glasses. You won’t miss out too much if you see it in 2D because the glasses aren’t cheap, nor is the IMAX, an IMAX screening at Odeon if £16.50 pp!! Odeon seem to feel they can put on £1.50 tax for the big blockbuster film, seriously. If you can only see it in 2D you will not miss out, but if you are able to afford the extra, the 3D is worth it.

The Jungle book does have a couple of negatives if I am honest. The pacing does feel slightly off at times even though it is better than the 1967 version and there are a few moments that don’t add up or make sense, and I know a few critics have found the film rather pointless (mainly doug Walker AKA the Nostalgia Critic) but you won’t care about it because you will be having a really good time. The Jungle Book is an excellent remake, I actually think it’s superior to the 1967 film and while that may seem sacrilegious to some, I actually felt like this one was much more of an interesting film and it had a really good cast, amazing effects, a really good film score, some amazing performances, especially from Neel Sethi and a plot that I could really get in to. I don’t think this film will change anyones opinion on which version is the better, I still think a lot will still view the 1967 animated film as the iconic version, but I think anyone who has nostalgia for the previous one should check this out. It’s a really good one for the whole family. John Favreau makes this film with real heart and passion and while I think some people will be putt off by the changes most likely the different ending and slightly darker tone but I preferred this and can really recommend this film. Oh and stick around for the credits they’re fantastic.

Well, normally this is where I ask you for your comments, but since I now have an Odeon limitless card, that means I am able to see more movies than ever before, and as a result, from now on, at the end of the reviews, I am going to do a quick summary on all the films I have seen outside of my reviews, so for people that don’t have access to Twitter.

Between this and Huntsman I only saw two films, Midnight Special and Hardcore Henry. Midnight special may have been praised by the critics, but I personally found it to be a very confusing mess because it sets off with very good ideas, but never fully develops any of them. I’m certain this will appeal to a lot of people, for example I saw it with Dr Buchan, who enjoyed it. Hardcore Henry is actually a very fun movie at times and it’s very good as simulating what it’s like to play a first person shooter game, but at times, it makes you want to pick up the controls and play the game except you then realise you are watching a movie and it can be very exhausting and I think the first person gimmick is not for everyone, this film wasn’t entirely for me but I know I am kind of in the minority with that one.

“Now I am going to ask for your thoughts not only on The Jungle Book, but any of the films I have mentioned in this one. Did you like them, hate them, or are you somewhere in between?”

Please leave a comment, and remember, if you want to submit your own reviews, visit our ‘how to submit’ section.

OK, next Friday 29 April I will be reviewing the Hungarian film that won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars, Son of Saul which will be appropriate since it’s getting released on that day, so for the first time I will actually be able to bring out a review on release day. Thank you very much for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and if you are wondering why Whisky Tango Foxtrot isn’t getting reviewed next week, it’s because its release date has been pushed back, so it’s probably not going to be getting a review from me because it is out the same week as Angry Birds. Sorry about that but I am going to be taking an animated film over a comedy for this site, purely because I feel the need to review almost every video game movie out there, I am kind of a masochist in that way!

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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