Epic Movie (Re)Watch #154 - The Jungle Book (2016)
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: Yes.
Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: Yes. #419.
1) The respect for the original 1967 film is established IMMEDIATELY, both by the use of a hand drawn opening logo and by the fact that the opening score for this film is the opening score from the original movie. Right away director Jon Favreu and the rest of the filmmakers let the audience know that they’re aware of just exactly what this film is and the expectations it needs to meet.
2) Neel Sethi as Mowgli.
When you have a kid as your lead character, it is important that you establish them as an honest character and not just a trope/stereotype. Through the film’s writing and Neel Sethi’s wonderful performance, we get just that. Paired together they make Mowgli smart, funny, crafty, but still someone who has a lot to learn. He is simultaneously someone you should not underestimate and someone who should learn humility. Sethi portrays these things wonderfully, as well as Mowgli’s issue of identity. He’s not a wolf, he’s not really a man cub, he wants to stay in the jungle but he doesn’t know where he belongs yet. Or who he belongs with. This is an interesting conflict which will carry us through until the end of the film.
3) One of the ways this film improves on its predecessor is that it puts more stock into relationships other than Mowgli/Baloo. Bagheera takes more of an active role in Mowgli’s upbringing, meaning it’s harder for him to take him back. Mowgli’s wolf mother - Raksha - is seen as a more important influence in his life. He has wolf brothers, and even his later relationship with Baloo comes about more organically. It’s wonderful way to build off of the original while staying respectful of it.
4) Grey - Mowgli’s younger wolf brother - is a surprise scene stealer for the film.
(Screenshot grabbed from GIF set posted by @daredvils)
Another instance of a refreshingly honest kid who just warms your heart.
5) This was Garry Shandling’s final film performance as Ikki the porcupine (who’s picture I cannot find), after having worked with director Favreau on Iron Man 2.
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
Unfortunately Shandling would not live to see the release of this film. But as a final performance it is a nice summation of his humor and heart.
6) This film does a fine job of incorporating elements from the source material which were not in the 1967, which is able to not only make the tone a little darker but also give us a better sense of just how the order of things works. This is most notable with the Law of the Jungle, Peace Rock, and the Water Truce.
7) Idris Elba as Shere Khan.
Through the writing and his performance, Elba is able to take an already great villain from the original movie and make him even better. From the very first moment this tiger steps on screen you feel the danger he carries with him. His presence is bone chilling, heart stopping, and makes your stomach turn. Most of the original 1967 film went without Khan being seen, with his presence being felt throughout. This film makes it very clear why we should be frightened by this tiger and damn it if they don’t make him scary as hell. He’s a stand out character in a film filled with amazing characters, and I think Elba deserves a lot of the credit for that. His voice is just SO menacing it’s amazing.
8) I see a lot of movies. I’ve almost seen 500 in theaters in the past 8.75 years. I can usually tell when something is a special effect. I can usually see the seams. Yet with The Jungle Book - while I KNOW I’m looking at CG through and through - I don’t see that. I see no seams in this; I can’t tell where real life ends and the studio begins, even after I’ve seen the behind the scenes video. These are honestly some of the most impressive CGI effects I have ever seen and THAT is saying something. It is what helps make the film so effective. It doesn’t feel like a computer generated world. It feels like the jungle.
9) I think it is a smart choice having Mowgli decide to leave the pack. In the original film he can be a little passive. He just is taken from one situation to the other and rolls with it. In the 2016 version, however, he determines his own fate. He decides to leave the pack, he decides to go back and face Shere Khan, he is not as passive and that makes him more interesting.
10) Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha and is another example of the stronger relationships this film features. She also breaks my heart with what are meant to be her final words to Mowgli:
Raksha: “Never forget this: you’re mine. Mine to me. No matter where you may go or what they may call you…”
11) Ben Kingsley as Bagheera.
I discussed earlier how Bagheera’s relationship with Mowgli comes off in this film than it did in the original, and Kingsley is able to portray that. Each line of dialogue is permeated with a constant care for Mowgli, expressed trhough a soft yet moving sorrow, the actions he takes for this boy, and at times angry concern. The Academy Award winner shines in the part and I don’t know that anyone else could portray Bagheera quite as well as he does.
12) If you’re not scared of Shere Khan yet, you will be. He is at his most threatening not when he comes barging in, growling and clawing at you. It’s when he’s calm. Collected. When he just sits at the top of the rock with Akeela and talks to him in a calm collected manner without ever actually looking at him. And then…
13) Scarlet Johansson as Kaa.
While only a brief appearance, Johansson is able to create a character who is chilling, frightening, and slick. It is a memorable character, switching out the humor from the original character to make one that is much more of a threat. The once peaceful “Trust in Me” is now turned into a dark and heart-pounding score as Kaa introduces some very useful exposition about Mowgli’s parentage and why exactly Shere Khan wants him dead. Again, a short scene, but a memorable one.
14) Bill Murray as Baloo.
As with the original, the life and humor in Baloo’s character are immediate. There is no topping the performance given by Phil Harris in the original, so Murray does the smart thing and doesn’t even try. Instead, he creates a much craftier Baloo than before. One who is defined by Murray’s signature sass and snark to create some incredibly funny moments. But there’s more to him than that. He is the first person to really accept Mowgli for who he is. For while Bagheera has seen it, Baloo is the first one to encourage him to be different. Mowgli has always felt bad about his “tricks” and not fitting in, and here comes Baloo who tells Mowgli he is amazing as is. It is from that solid bedrock that they are able to craft a relationship as strong as the one in the original film, one of respect and love and caring. Murray is able to play both sides of this: the con man and the loving friend. And the film is better for it.
15) This was the hardest I laughed when I saw this film.
Baloo [after three different small critters come up and comment on Mowgli constantly]: “You have never been a more endangered species than you are in this moment.”
16) Jon Favreu and Sam Raimi both cameo in this film as some of the critters which bother Baloo. Raimi is the squirrel and Favreu is the hog:
17) The inclusion of “The Bare Necessities” in this film is nice, I feel. The movie is not a musical, so Mowgli and Baloo aren’t supposed to be singing like they’re doing a big number. They’re just two friends rocking out to a song they like. Musical purists may find it painful to listen to because it’s clear they’re not classically trained, but I appreciate the honesty to it.
18) Baloo and Bagheera have a fun conflict which is established quickly in a nice banter. It’s fun then to see this conflict change to a friendship bonded over their shared concern over Mowgli.
19) I think the scene where Mowgli saves the young elephant is maybe the most important to understanding his character. He approaches a herd of elephants huddled around a pit - elephants being established as the most respected and dangerous creatures in the jungle - and after showing their respect he uses his “tricks” to save the child. It shows off Mowgli’s kindness, his ingenuity, and his bravery. And then he just says, “Hey guys,” when he sees that Baloo and Bagheera were watching like it was no big deal. Because to him it wasn’t. Someone was in trouble and he had to help. That’s who Mowgli is.
20) The scene where Baloo pushes Mowgli away breaks my heart. Because he KNOWS Mowgli needs to get away from Shere Khan to be safe, and the only reason Mowgli is sticking around (or at least the key reason) is because he wants to stay with Baloo. So what does Baloo do?
Baloo: “No, we were never friends.”
Baloo: “I don’t want you around anymore.”
And then after Mowgli runs away, he turns to Bagheera.
Baloo; “Well I did it. And that’s about the hardest thing I’ll ever do.”
Bagheera: “I know.”
21) Did I mention Baloo has some of the funniest moments in the film?
Baloo [while climbing a cliff side to get to Mowgli, after seeing a bird, laughing to himself]: “A bird! That can’t be a good sign!”
But the cliffside scene is also nice because Bagheera supports Baloo. He takes the time to let Baloo know he’s doing fine and that there’s not much more left. I love that.
22) Let’s take a second to appreciate this (keeping in mind King Louie is played by Christopher Walken): Mowgli finds a cowbell in Louie’s treasure hoard…
And then he shakes the cowbell…
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
Only for Christopher Walken to appear.
23) Christopher Walken as King Louie.
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
According to IMDb:
In The Jungle Book (1967), King Louie (who was created by Walt Disney_ and his people and not by Rudyard Kipling.) was an orangutan. In this film, he’s a Gigantopithecus, an ancestor of the orangutan whose range is believed to have included parts of India. This change in species was made to make the film more fantastic, since it would be a good way to represent him as King of the Monkeys and to show that orangutans are not native to India.
Like Kaa, Louie’s comedy is swapped out to make him more villainous. And it works amazingly. He is more frightening and foreboding, with Walken able to make the villain truly scary. His greed (found in the original film) and desire for power is amplified even greater, and he participates in one of the greatest action set pieces the film has to offer when he chases Mowgli through the ruins (inducing even a jump scare at one point). The one issue I have is that the presence of “I Wan’na Be Like You” always felt off to me. It is one of the most iconic songs from the original, but this is not a musical. Mowgli and Baloo were singing before just as friends do, but Louie pretty much breaks into song. I appreciate it’s presence in the movie but it just feels strange to me HOW it’s included.
24) Mowgli claiming the red flower (fire) is a great way to start off the climax of this film.
It gives him a choice: he either becomes a “real” man - the kind that lives in the man village and strikes fear into the jungle’s inhabitants - or he choses to belong in the jungle and fight Shere Khan a different way. It ties directly into Mowgli’s conflict of identity and he choses the latter of the two options, throwing the fire into the water.
Shere Khan: “That was the stupidest thing you could have done.”
But it wasn’t, Shere Khan! Because what happens next? Baloo stands up to defend Mowgli first - reciting the Law of the Jungle - and everyone follows suit.
25) This line.
(Screenshot taken of a GIF originally posted by @anjelia3)
THIS is Mowgli’s conflict of identity resolved. He’s not a wolf, he’s not a panther, he’s not a bear, he’s not a monkey, he’s not a tiger, and the jungle has rejected man. But Mowgli has learned how to be a man that can live in peace with the jungle and be the best version of himself he can be.
26) The final fight between Mowgli and Shere Khan on the dead tree is a great climax. It is wildly claustrophobic and intense and shows off how Mowgli can beat Shere Khan in a battle of the minds more than a battle of strength.
27) I mentioned in my analysis of the original film I didn’t know how I felt about the ending, that Mowgli fought so hard to stay in the jungle but also had a conflict of identity and it played into the latter not the former. On the contrary, the way this film ends - with Mowgli finding his place in the jungle as a man - is a great way to resolve BOTH of those things. I personally prefer the ending of this film to the 1967 movie because of that.
The Jungle Book was one of my favorite films last year. I thought it was truly great. I think the effects knock it out of the park, Neel Sethi is incredible as our only human in the film, the voice cast kills it, and the story is just amazing. I love this film and recommend it to everyone, ESPECIALLY fans of Disney and the original book or film. I just love this movie.
Note: Considering how old and well known this story is, I figured putting out a spoiler warning is pretty useless. Nevertheless, I don’t go into detail about plot points specific to this particular adaptation, so this review is spoiler free!
“Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack” - The Law of the Jungle, by Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling’s original 1894 magnum opus is truly one of Literature’s greatest works. Drawing upon his experiences growing up and working in Colonial India, Kipling created a vivid series of stories about the Indian Jungle that enraptured generations of readers. A masterful wordsmith, he created a Jungle that was both terrifyingly dangerous and intoxicatingly inviting. He populated this world with anthropomorphic animals in order to teach children lessons in respect and morality, with memorable characters like Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan, Raksha, Kaa and of course, Mowgli, the Man-Cub. Like many, I fondly remember having it read to me as a child, and to this day it’s one of my all-time favourite books.
And also like many, I loved Disney’s animated 1967 take on the original story. It was an almost completely different beast from the original story, but it was a wonderful movie that, while lacking much of a plot, was nevertheless charming with it’s humour and its songs, and holds a special place in the hearts of millions of children and those like me who are children at heart.
And now here we are, almost half a century on from Disney’s initial animated effort, and once again, after some slightly less than memorable live action remakes in the 90s, the Mouse House has unleashed upon the world yet another. But this one delivers. Guys, this one meets the hype. It’s freaking phenomenal.
With game-changing, spectacular, photorealistic CGI and an impeccably picked cast, Jon Favreau delivers a marvelous adaptation of The Jungle Book for this generation - one that pays homage to it’s animated predecessor, draws thematic inspiration from its source material, all the while creating a compelling narrative of it’s own accord - which could very well be the definitive adaptation of Kipling’s timeless tale.
There were numerous ways they could’ve screwed this one up. This film is the latest in a long line of live action remakes that Disney is recently producing of it’s animated classics. Some have been better than others. Maleficent, for example, despite a stellar performance from Angelina Jolie, was so obsessed with putting a contemporary spin on a well-known antagonist, and rewriting events in order to make the titular villain more sympathetic, that it was utterly devoid of the original Sleeping Beauty’s charm. The outrageous amount of CGI didn’t help matters either, and it ended up looking like a fake mess. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland remake, meanwhile had issues with a meandering plot. Last year’s Cinderella, however, was a breath of fresh air. In deciding to make a faithful adaptation of the animated classic, Kenneth Branagh’s movie was received well by both critics and audiences.
It’s thus that adapting the Jungle Book posed a tricky situation for Jon Favreau, and screenwriter Justin Marks. Had this movie been overly faithful to the 1967 animation, modern audiences would probably scoff at it. However nostalgically people remember talking animals singing about the Bare Necessities of life, a whimsical, live action musical with a lack of threat probably wouldn’t cut it. Too faithful to Kipling’s original text, and it would be considered too “dark and gritty” (as is all the rage today in Hollywood) for the typical Disney demographic. It would also probably lose the trademark Disney charm that people so fondly remember the original with. So what did they do? They combined the best of both worlds, of course, to great success. While setting a new bar for the standards of CGI in movies today.
As charming as the 1967 version was, it had a very basic plot and lacked a good deal of narrative heft. As befitting the works of Walt Disney, it was very child-friendly, which it ought to have been. But as a result, stakes were significantly lowered. Shere Khan ran away from fire after being distracted by those Beatles vultures. Again, very cute and child friendly - which isn’t to say Favreau’s version isn’t for kids, because it certainly is. Show this to any child and I bet they’d be totally enraptured by what’s unfolding on-screen. But Justin Marks, using themes from Kipling’s novels, lends a great deal of gravitas to the screenplay, and gives more depth to characters like Shere Khan and make them genuinely evil. There’s nothing particularly horrifying, but certain sequences may have especially young children, under 10 perhaps, holding their parents hands. It’s totally fine though - using more “mature” themes allows the audience to feel a real sense of danger, as well as a more clear, concise, and centralized journey for Mowgli to undertake from the start of the film to the end, especially in comparison to the animated movie. The wolf mantra heard repetitively throughout the movie is taken from one of Kipling’s original poems from the books, and allows to solidify the movie’s messages of the strength in both individuality as well as companionship.
Marks’ screenplay at different times changes the tonality of the movie from a humorous comedy, heartfelt emotional drama, to a thrilling revenge story, with the lush jungle as a backdrop. But remarkably, just like Kipling’s original story, these shifts in tonality don’t seem jarring at all. Scenes and sequences move smoothly from one to the other, and even the songs (the film includes “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na be Like You” from the original - it would be sacrilegious if they didn’t). which some people found to feel a little odd from the rest of the movie - I thought were spontaneous and added beautifully to the film.
The CGI in this movie, truly, is breathtaking, and arguably the best in any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s ridiculous to believe that every tree, every leaf, every drop of water, every strand of hair on the animals’ body, was created on a computer. “Location shooting” wasn’t the vast Jungles of India. It was a studio in LA. It’s clear to see how painstaking the process must have been to the animators, but their hard work definitely paid off. I don’t think we’ve seen such a leap in CGI technology since Avatar in 2009 or Life of Pi in 2012. At times it definitely felt like I was watching a nature documentary, as opposed to a fictional fantasy story. There are even some shots where water would splash upon the camera lens, adding a great depth of depth and immersion to the cinematic experience.
The cast was, as I previously mentioned, was impeccably picked. Ben Kingsley is wonderful as the stern but loving fatherly Bagheera, complete with his RP accent. Bill Murray is just perfect as the laid back and easy-going Baloo. There’s not many people who could’ve held a candle to Phil Harris and his original version of the “Bare Necessities”, but Murray rendition is just as brilliant. His role as Baloo is probably his best work in ages. Likewise is Christopher Walken’s King Louie, now a Gigantopithecus ape, since Louis Prima’s orangutan wasn’t native to India. And his cover of “I Wan’na Be Like You” is just perfect. His voice and accent fit the song so well. Lupita Nyong’o brings a warmth and motherly love to Raksha, and the seductive, dulcet tones of Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa really give you chills. As for the antagonist, the great Shere Khan, Idris Elba brings a menacing East London-accented gravitas to the iconic tiger. He’s a genuinely terrifying villain, and his interplay with Mowgli and delivery of lines has to be commended. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about the voice talent on display here.
Which brings us to basically our only human character in the film, Neel Sethi’s Mowgli. This kid is just brilliant. He portrays Mowgli with just the right amount of naivete, enthusiasm, humor, heart, bravery, and cuteness. We watch or read the Jungle Book through the eyes of a child, and Neel is the perfect audience surrogate, reacting like we would with a child’s amazement and wonder at the extraordinary events happening around him. On the rare occasions that his delivery of lines may slip up, or his eyes are looking in another direction it’s important to keep in mind that he was a) only 10 years old during filming, and b) a kid with hardly any acting experience acting not along with other humans, but literally nothing but green screen and boxes and tennis balls. It’s extraordinary how he managed to carry the whole film by himself, and you can’t help but think that if they cast the wrong kid, the entire movie would’ve probably fallen flat on it’s face. There are seasoned adult actors who act in front of a green screen and come off as utterly wooden and lifeless. Neel knocked it out of the park. An incredibly talented young man, who I’m sure has great things ahead for him.
I was initially hesitant about the idea of a live action remake of the Jungle Book, but safe to say I was more than satisfied with this film. It’s one of those rare movies that I can seriously find no serious fault with. If anything, I only wish we could see those Beatles tribute band Vultures in live action. Apparently Favreau even planned for Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to appear as cameos, but sadly the scheduling didn’t work out.
But the movie as a whole was spectacular - fantastic voice talent, brilliant photorealistic CGI, and a heartfelt, emotional narrative at it’s core. It’s a wonderful story for families, and is just 2 hours full of pure escapism. A massive well done to all the cast and crew.
All thoughts turn now to Andy Serkis and WB’s completely separate adaptation, Jungle Book, now since delayed from next October to October 2018. Set to be closer to the spirit of Kipling’s novel even more than this one, it’s hard not to get excited with talent such as Serkis, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch behind it. There’s also a sequel planned for this one, with the same creative talent returning, so it’s all the more reason to get excited, especially with the wealth of Kipling’s original stories left to adapt. But those are still a long way away, and for now, we can rest content with what I believe to be the most definitive adaptation of Kipling’s text. A masterpiece.