Last Friday, I went to see Disney’s live action recreation of The Jungle Book. After watching the trailer, my friend and I couldn’t wait to go see it. We went the earliest chance we got and it didn’t disappoint.
Most people know the general gist of The Jungle Book. It depicts the story of a young boy Mowgli who is stranded in an Indian jungle as a baby. The movie then follows the man-cub as he gets older, encountering both friends and enemies, while also beginning to consider where he really comes from. It’s a great story, originally written as an allegory for Indian politics and society at the time, and then created as a comical animation in 1967, before being revisited as a live-action creation in 2016.
The first thing I want to say about this movie is how incredible it looked. Initially, before the trailers and images were released, I was sceptical of a live action version of the well-known 1967 Disney animated feature. I’m usually not a big fan of anthropomorphised mouths on “real-life” animals but this movie tackles that amazingly and I was actually really impressed. I also had no trouble believing that these animals were real at all. The CG creatures looked very realistic and it is clear that the studio put a lot of work into researching the animals they were creating down to the very last detail (for each frame of the bear, Baloo, it took almost five hours of rendering time) and it paid off. The movements of the animals were spot on and the scale to which they were shown, especially on a cinema screen, was really incredible to see. The VFX settings that surround the animals are also brilliantly done. The entire film was shot in a sound stage in LA where the studio have still managed to capture great depth and authenticity in the picture, making it seem like a real jungle setting. To go and see this film solely for the artistry that has gone into the beautiful aesthetics would in no way be a waste of your time.
The animation throughout also contributes to the intensity of the movie that separates it very distinctly from the light-hearted 1967 version of The Jungle Book. The darker colour pallet not only aids the CG (films with bright CG can often seem shiny and fake), but it also sets a menacing and dangerous tone to the film. This darkness creates a very interesting contrast with one of the main driving forces of the movie – the red flower. Fire plays a vital role in the story as man’s one weapon against the creatures of the jungle and the one thing that Shere Khan fears. Visually it is another case of beautiful animation as this man-made creation is obviously a vivid orange colour that stands out massively from the natural and mysterious jungle setting.
The main development that this movie makes on the 1967 feature is perhaps one of maturity when looking at the dynamics within an Indian jungle. The original cartoon presented us with a comical twist on the various characters, such as the pompous Colonel Hathi – an elephant who marches his herd through extravagantly loud and pointless patrols. Director, Jon Favreau, however focuses a lot more on the ideas found in the original novel by Rudyard Kipling. We now see the elephants as a symbol of ancestral law as they boldly yet silently roam through the jungle representing obedience and patience. This transformation from cartoon to live-action sees many characters get a lot better treatment this time around with a more dignified look at the animal kingdom.
However, the film doesn’t completely forget the 1967 animation. To many viewers who remember The Jungle Book from their childhood, the tasteful reference to ‘The Bare Necessities’ was a lovely moment to watch. And if they had left it at that, the movie would have been great, BUT (and I hate to say it) the creators, in my opinion, slipped up.
There was one scene in the film that I had a problem with – the inclusion of King Louie. It is true to say that this character is not originally in the Kipling novel (orangutans aren’t even from India!?), but instead is a creation of the Disney writers in 1967, and therefore perhaps we should give the film some leeway for how abnormal this scene is. The ridiculous size of the character I didn’t like, but this was sort of explained away with labelling the thing a Gigantopithecus, so I guess I have to accept that. In keeping with the rest of the movie, this King Louie is clearly meant to be a large, domineering and scary monkey, which is why, ladies and gentleman, I could not handle it when it started singing. I know. The scene completely stood out from the dark and intense tone of the movie, as this giant animal broke out into a full-blown number of ‘I wan’na be like you’. I could tell I wasn’t the only one in the cinema who thought that this was odd as well – people were turning to each other confused and giggling with its ridiculousness. It was an annoying downfall because it felt like the audience ended up just sitting there waiting for the song to be over, which of course it eventually was and the movie started up again and did get back on track fairly quickly, but the scene did seem like an unnecessary low point for many. I only comment upon this scene because, if people do see the film themselves, I don’t want them to give up all hope at this half way point. The story does pick up again and King Louie is never mentioned after this. So hang in there, maybe go and get more popcorn or something.
One aspect of this film, however, that you just can’t fault is the casting. I was excited as soon as the trailer was released and saw all these amazing actors up there. Bill Murry as Baloo and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera are both perfect choices. Murray obviously gives a very comical performance and brilliantly captures the loving, comforting side of the character that Mowgli is able to find a real friend in. Bagheera slots into this group perfectly as, conveyed as a stern but still loving character that is only concerned with keeping Mowgli safe. And personally I don’t think anybody could ever hear enough of Kingsley’s voice. Idris Elba as Shere Khan is another example of great casting – his strong voice coming from the huge domineering tiger is truly chilling.
Overall, The Jungle Book is a brilliantly crafted film with a group of really good actors. I would definitely recommend to it to people (even the ones without kids).