In Disney’s attempt to recreate many of their animated classics, they managed to bring to life several princesses (and will continue to do so when Beauty and the Beast opens)… some where a smashing success and others fell flat. But with their third live action remake, they shied away from the fairy tales of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and on July 9, 2013 announced that they were going to adapt 1967’s animated classic The Jungle Book (the last film that was made while Walt Disney was still alive) for a new wave of audiences.
This remake of The Jungle Book is actually the second one from Disney. In 1994, they released another live-action remake of Mowgli and his journey from the jungle into “civilized” society. The 2016 remake was a nice combination of the whimsy found in the 1967 original and the more realistic and sometimes frightening found in the 1994 remake.
This film introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and the rest of the cast is a star studded line up. Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger, Scarlet Johansson as Kaa the python, Christopher Walken as Old King Louie, and even Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowlgi’s wolf mother.
The story, for the most part, follows the original cartoon perfectly. Mowgli, a man cub is raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves. But when Shere Khan returns to the jungle, it is no longer safe for Mowgli to remain in the wild and so it is up to Bagheera to take Mowgli back to the man village.
After an attack from the tiger, Shere Khan, Mowgli is separated from Bagheera and runs into an enormous python named, Kaa. Hypnotizing Mowgli, Kaa tells of how Shere Khan was scarred by a man with fire (“man’s red flower”) and how the man’s baby–Mowgli–was abandoned in the jungle. Kaa almost eats Mowgli whole but is attacked by a bear… everyone’s favorite, Baloo!
Baloo shows Mowlgi the ways of the jungle and Mowgli helps Baloo with his “man tricks” to help him get honey (a bit too Winnie the Pooh for me). Bagheera finds them and, knowing that even he can’t protect Mowgli, Baloo urges him to leave the jungle as well.
While Mowgli is crying, betrayed by Baloo, he is kidnapped by a band of monkeys that bring him to their king, an enormous orangutan named King Louie. Unable to make fire for the king, Mowgli escapes with the help of Bagheera and Baloo… but not before he finds out that Shere Khan killed his wolf father.
Enraged, Mowgli steals fire from the man village and faces Shere Khan. The jungle rallies together to finally stand up to Shere Khan and put an end to his tyranny. Shere Khan dies in a classic Disney death and Mowgli can be seen leaning back in a tree surrounded by his faithful companions, Baloo and Bagheera.
And, of course, they all lived Happily Ever After! At least, however happy you can be in the jungle…
Now I like The Jungle Book as much as the next person but it was never one of the stellar Disney films, so when they announced that this would be the third remake Disney would produce, I was kind of surprised. But, in all honesty, I think it might be the best remake they’ve created to date. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: stay true to the source material and add to it to make it a deeper story.
While the majority of the characters were hidden behind CG animals, the cast in this film was to die for, and my personal favorite (and the one that carried the rest of the movie through) was Idris Elba and the character of Shere Khan. I know I sound like a broken record but Disney has been KILLING it with explaining what makes our favorite villains tick and just why are they so gosh darn dastardly. We not only see Shere Khan almost right away (which might take away a bit of the suspense… but it’s Idris Elba, so I don’t care), but we learn why he hates man and why he is afraid of fire. So instead of Shere Khan simply hating man for the sake of hating man, they, once again, give a reason why and they give us a backstory between Mowgli and Shere Khan. On top of that, they just added to his venomous nature with his prowling and Elba’s smooth and yet threatening voice. They took a villain that was already pretty terrifying from the original cartoon and gave him just a bit more of that sinister, plotting, conniving nature that only Elba could bring to Khan. I think it’s safe to say that Shere Khan is one of Disney’s classiest villains in the same realm as Maleficent. They are so confident in their power and their evil ways that they know that nothing should stop them. And both of those villains (when they were actually being villain-y… ahem… Maleficent) made leaps and bounds from their original counterparts in the live action remakes.
Another character I thought was really well done, while I didn’t love his acting, is Mowgli. His face and vocal acting is still in need of some help–this was his first film and he was only 11 years old when filming after all–but his physical performance and body language where phenomenal. The way he would prop his feet up or dangle them from a tree limb was identical to how his cartoon counterpart would move. His gangling arms and legs made him look as if Mowgli jumped out of the hand drawn world and appeared before you as a living and breathing boy. That may have been his doing or it may have been directorial… either way, it was brilliant and was one of the main things that really made it feel like a Disney Jungle Book remake.
I was also a huge fan of the music in this film (if you keep reading, you’ll see this is also something that I have a problem with in the film). The instrumental music was as close to the original as you could possibly get and I, for one, appreciated it. The opening sequence when the title appears on the screen shares the exact same composition as the opening of the cartoon. It set the mood for the film and I found myself smiling like a fool just 30 seconds into the movie.
The ending of the film I think was the smartest change that Disney has made when it comes to their remakes so far. In each of the remakes, they have tried to change things–both big and small–and sometimes it’s paid off and other times it has not. In the case of The Jungle Book, I think it really worked in favor of both the filmmakers and the story. Instead of it simply being a final battle between Shere Khan and Baloo, this was an epic battle between everyone in the jungle. Instead of shunning Mowgli and never having the animals see the man cub again, Mowgli returns to his home and helps his friends defend it. This makes the climax so much more meaningful. The battle sequence between Shere Khan and Mowgli among the burning trees in the jungle was beautiful to look at and stressful to watch. Again, with Idris Elba’s performance, you are genuinely afraid that he’s going to win… even though you know how it ends!
All that being said, no remake is perfect (at least not yet) and there was still a few things that made me cringe while watching the movie.
The music (I warned you). The iconic songs that were in this film are either completely removed or really awkwardly placed in the narrative. Bill Murray singing “The Bare Necessities” seems more like a jam session that someone wasn’t supposed to actually hear. And Christopher Walken singing “I Wanna Be Like You” is just… weird (what else do you expect from Walken?). It’s the only song in the film that is a full fledged musical number and because of that it just seems painfully out of place. If they wanted to make this a musical, they should have had all the songs from the original… Don’t copy and paste a few songs in at random points. It just makes it awkward for the rest of us.
And as a whole the film felt very disconnected from the Disney version. In fact, all three of the remakes–Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book–haven’t necessarily felt like they were re-imaginings of the Disney films. In The Jungle Book, the characters are all so disconnected. If you haven’t seen the original cartoon, you might be very confused about who Bagheera and Baloo are and how they come to know Mowgli. It almost feels like this film was made for only people who have seen the original because if you haven’t you might not fully grasp what is going on or who these characters are. As a whole, all of the characters seem very much just that: characters. They don’t seem to have a past or a future, only the present moment where you are seeing them. It doesn’t matter how they connect with each other because the movie doesn’t even try to connect them or make them seem at all related to one another.
But my biggest complaint would have to be the CGI. Now, I am not a fan of computer animation… at all. If it can be done with puppets or makeup, great! Better yet, real animals. The 1994 remake managed to use real animals and it looked not only amazing but it was so believable. And even though the 1967 cartoon was just that–a cartoon–it still felt so much more real because everything was the same medium: the trees are animated, the animals are animated, the humans are animated. But here, we have real people, plaster trees, green screen jungle, and computer animated animals. As you watch the 2016 film, everything feels so fake which is why Neel’s performance as Mowgli is a bit too rigid and forced at times… he’s surrounded by a green screen, forced to pretend to be in a jungle surrounded by colorful characters. Maybe they were trying to go for a storybook feel but, for me, it made it so much less believable knowing that everything was created on a computer. If the 1994 version could offer us real panthers and bears and tigers, then I would hope the 2016 version could as well.
While this incarnation of The Jungle Book wasn’t perfect, as a remake goes, it might be ranked above Cinderella and might be my favorite so far. It definitely felt like The Jungle Book. We got to know a bit more about Mowgli’s history and so much was added to Shere Khan’s character. With a cast such as this, you almost forget how all of the songs that you loved from the original were gone and it’s almost enough to distract you from the CGI.
Disney took an okay movie (admit it: The Jungle Book isn’t your favorite) and tried to make something bigger and better out of it. I think they managed to add onto the story just enough to make it a bit deeper and richer than the original cartoon. And while I’m a much bigger fan of Disney’s fairy tales, they still managed to create a beautiful (Academy Award winning) movie that took us on a wild adventure.
What did you think of Jungle Book, or any of the recent remakes? Leave a comment below.
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