Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

(Movie Review)

My History with this Story
So, like everyone else in the world, Disney was a big part of my childhood.
In my case, even more so than most of my schoolmates, because at our house we were not allowed to watch regular TV, and our media input was largely limited to PBS and the Disney Canon.
This past year, I got even more exposure to this movie, when I designed movie  - worksheets based upon Disney's The Jungle Book and used them across 3 of my classes.  Between designing these worksheets, and playing them in 3 classes, I had the dialogue of The Jungle Book memorized backwards and forwards these past few months.  (I had no idea a new Jungle Book movie was about to hit the theaters when I did all this.)

...Oh, and also I read the original Rudyard Kipling book back when I was in 6th grade.  But the book has so little to do with the Disney movie that it's scarcely worth mentioning here.  (Walt Disney famously told his screenwriters not to read Rudyard Kipling's original book while they were making the movie.)  And I also saw the 1994 Jungle Book (W) and the 1942 (W) version.

Why I Saw this Movie / Thoughts Going into It
So I think we all had the same thought process regarding this movie, right?
Initially the reaction was, "WHAAAT?  A live-action remake of The Jungle Book that nobody asked for?  Curse you Disney Company!!!"

Followed by, "Oh, wait.  This thing is actually getting some pretty good reviews.  Maybe it's worth checking out after all."

Plus in my case the girlfriend wanted to see it, so it was inescapable for me.

The Negatives
* A problem this re-make inherits from its original source material: the story is largely episodic and lacks any kind of forward story-telling momentum.

* Related to the above point--is it just me, or was this movie a bit boring in parts?  I found myself really getting bored in the middle, and most of the rest of the people in my theater (including all the children) did as well.

* Another reason I think I got bored--because this was a remake, I knew exactly what the beats of the story would be, and there was no suspense.

* As amazing as the CGI was for all the background, it's just not quite there yet for many of the animals. Don't get me wrong, it's almost there.  In other 5 years we should be seeing some amazing stuff.  But....not quite yet.

The Positives
* Despite my complaining about the movie as a whole, there's no denying there were some pretty amazing scenes.  There was some real emotional intensity in some of the scenes (Shere Khan confronting the wolf pack, for example), and the beautifully rendered CGI jungle was great for a feeling of awe and mystique--like when Mowgli floated down the river into the fog, for example.

* Okay, so I've already complained about the CGI animals.  But the CGI everything else--the trees, the rivers, the rocks, the mud, the vines, the fire...that stuff was all amazingly real.  I would  have had no idea it was all CGI if I hadn't read it on the Internet beforehand.  And even then, I was still having trouble believing it.

* Bill Murray

The Review
Hollywood loves remakes, but the biggest problem each remake faces is that it needs to justify its existence.  This movie did have some incredible scenes.  And some of these individual scenes were superior to their equivalent scenes in the original.  But I'm not sure the story as a whole was told any better here than it had been in 1967.

Bonus Section--Comparing the original to the remake

Bill Murray versus Phil Harris is a tough call.  I love Bill Murray. but Phil Harris's Baloo is just better.  Go watch the 1967 version again.  Phil Harris's Baloo is just bursting out with personality in a way that the 2016 Baloo never got to. (Admittedly that's partly because Phil Harris had more to work with in the 1967 version).

The scene in which Baloo has to tell Mowgli to go back to the man-village is also given much more motivation, and much more emotion, in the 1967 version.

I prefer Sebastian Cabot's version of Bagheera as well.  And I thought the interplay between Bagheera and Baloo was much better in the 1967 version.

(Although I did always feel cheated that Bagheera never faced off against Shere Khan in the 1967 version--the classic panther versus tiger fight. We finally did get this fight now in this 2016 version).

I absolute loved George Sanders as Shere Khan.  He was doing his classic George Sanders thing of the really posh upper-class English villain who was just oozing politeness and malice.

...But I have to admit that Idris Elba's Shere Khan is much more intimidating and frightening.

Also on the side of the 2016 version:
The 2016 version cuts out some of the dead scenes from the original (the elephant patrol, the second needless encounter with Kaa, the vultures).  And also cuts out some of the plot holes by coming up with a reason for Mowgli to be separated from Bagheera without Bagheera abandoning him twice (as in the 1967 version).
I also like that it gave Mowgli more of  an agency by having Mowgli confront Shere Khan at the end, instead of just being hunted down by Shere Khan.

Other Observations
You know, I've always been skeptical of all those smug people on the Internet who said that "I wanna be like You" was a racist song.  Okay, maybe with a little imagination, you could possibly read this as an allegory about race relations.  But you certainly don't have to.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a singing monkey just represents a singing monkey, and nothing more.
But whether the criticism is valid or not, it's widespread enough that it's become an embarrassment for Disney at this point.  I was under the impression that the song was embarrassing enough for Disney that they wouldn't include it in future versions.  I have to admit, I was a little shocked that they included it here.

Final Verdict :
4 Stars (Despite several of the positives mentioned above, I didn't think this film improved enough on the original story to justify it's existence, and I found the middle pretty boring.)

Link of the Day
The GOP and the Christian Right

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