The Jungle Book

April 17, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

In preparation for seeing this film, I reread Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” for the first time in probably 25 years this week (or at least the portion from which the movie is drawn). I also rewatched portions of the 1967 classic. All of which is to say that I felt prepared for what to expect; I was not. From the earliest moments, the audience knows it’s in for a visual treat. Much as I had heard about the special effects, I had steadfastly avoided any previews, so I was completely unprepared for how realistic those animals were. The way they walked, the way the wind moved through their fur, the way they reacted with anger or fear, was all so remarkably realistic. I found the wolves, in particular, to be mesmerizing but all of the creatures were truly stunning. And the vivid Indian jungle was just as beautiful and rich. I have no idea how much of what we saw was set and how much was CGI and it all blended seamlessly. Director Jon Favreau (“Chef,” “Swingers” and the bonanza that was the “Iron Man” series) has shown his skill at both big box office CGI and small, character driven stories. Both were on display here, with these animated animals showing a remarkable amount of personality. Beyond just the look of it, the film was very much a Jungle Book story, by which I mean it was no more or less like the original book than the first film. In fact, it drew some elements from the book that the original film did not (with nice nods to a porcupine, peacock and elephants, all of which has small roles in Kipling’s story). It also referenced the original film in some fun and loving ways; even at their corniest, these scenes worked, largely because of the nostalgia they engendered in the audience. That said, the story itself was largely a whole new creation; it started with elements of the book and then when in it’s own direction. With a stellar cast of stars, the voice-over work was excellent, though Idris Elba was a standout as the menacing Shere Khan. The young boy playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi (in his first full length film), did a passable job; his acting was sometimes a bit wooden but he also had a playfulness and snarkiness that worked well for the character. With the exception of the songs from the original film, the score was wholly uneventful and paint-by-numbers, though perhaps that is what you want in a children’s movie. Speaking of which, it is interesting to compare this one to the 1967 version, which was so much tamer and less intense. I don’t think this would have been considered a kids movie 25 years ago, much less 50 years ago. I’m not sure what that tells us but it is interesting to think about. Deeper philosophical questions aside, this was a genuinely fun film from start to finish.


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