Ah, 2016. A movie enthusiasts dream. You’ve got your original pictures like Money Monster, Midnight Special, and Zootopia. Then of course the finest sequels studios could put out: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Star Trek: Beyond. And what’s a year in film without a few remakes: Ben-Hur, Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book, and of…wait…The Jungle Book?
“Wait, wait, wait…slow down now I say.” Why in the name of Stephen Spielberg remake The Jungle Book. And just to sate curiosity, they actually do mean a remake of the beloved animated film from 1967. This is Disney after all and they have been making it a bit of their MO recently: remake old animated features into live action adaptations, some good:
And some not so good:
So, it’s come to this Disney. You took the remake/reboot wagon to new heights and then made it skydive. Well, I have one thing to say to you about your precious new Jungle Book live action film: how did you make it so good?
First of all, I’m all for remakes. I don’t care, if I loved the film before, and Hollywood remakes it now, I either get to laugh at it and remember how good the original still is or I get to see it through new eyes and be surprised by the unique take a director or actor has done to my loved film. Of course the bottom line is that Hollywood is out of ideas so they’re just hoping all the people that saw the film originally in theaters are dead now. I mean, after almost 80 years, I think it’s okay to retread a little bit of ground:
But, now that I think of it…
Okay, so Disney is taking their classics and remaking them with today’s technology. In the case of The Jungle Book, director Jon Favreau (the guy that pretty much made the Marvel Cinematic Universe possible) used cutting edge animation to make the most believable CGI characters I’ve ever seen. There is even a question of if the film will compete as an animated feature instead of the typical “live action” films in Award Season. I’m reasonably tech savvy myself, but what those artists and Weta did is something unlike I’ve ever seen. Right there, it’s worth the price of admission.
After you’re done gawking at the realistic animals actually talking to the new actor, Neel Sethi (Mowgli), you then have to listen to who is talking. Voice work is where it get’s a little sticky for me. For a while, animation voice work was done by relative nobody actors or some that just had a natural talent at voice work and eventually became completely iconic:
But then Dreamworks had success with Shrek in 2001 with Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy headlining the film. First time I can remember that an animated feature actually billed the actors playing a role. Well, that’s not quite true:
Nevertheless, once Myers and Murphy headlined Shrek, every animated feature had to have Hollywood stars doing voice work, whether they could or not. This was not a problem in the least for The Jungle Book. Being told the tale by the amazing Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the panther, laughing it up with Bill “Freaking” Murray as the lovable lazy bear Baloo, or just being plain freaked out and comforted by Scarlett Johansson’s boa constrictor Kaa. These actors didn’t just phone in a lazy script. They made their mark on the characters, and yes, I thought of the animals just as real as Mowgli. Usually you can hear the voice and see the actor’s face, but Favreau went to great lengths to gather a cast of professional actors to bring more life into his CGI world.
I skipped two names up there. The first one, Idris Elba as the vicious tiger Shere Khan, who basically took an entire jungle hostage for the sake of revenge, was terrifying. Not one moment did he not sound menacing, in charge, and lethal. I’m now convinced that Elba should be available at all times so parents can have him call unruly children and calmly speak until their pants are full.
Hell, I bet it would even work on adults:
The other name I left off was someone that absolutely stole the show every second his character was on screen. Christopher Walken portrayed the devious (and humongous) King Louie the Orangutan, and oh yeah, they let him sing. Walken’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” started off as a discussion with Mowgli and soon took off like a bullet from a gun. His talents were absolutely perfect. Dancing, singing, and totally creeping everyone out. I have no doubt in my mind that Walken didn’t audition for the part, he simply came in took it over. There is not enough words of joy to describe his performance.
The only downfall in Favreau’s The Jungle Book is that it is a remake and thus no surprises in the story. It’s not even a “The original was better” argument, it was just the same. Sure, they added more adult dialog and changed a couple scenes up, but it was still the same Jungle Book I remember from when I was a kid. That’s the trap you have with a remake or a reboot: if you don’t make it different enough while still using the same framework, you’ve pretty much already lost. We’ve seen it happen with multiple films, and unfortunately the best example of a remake/reboot giving better life to the source material would be 2010’s True Grit. While tons of people will argue that there is no one better than John Wayne in a Western Film, seeing “The Dude” bring Rooster Cogburn to whole new levels and satisfactorily bringing in crowds for a Western film…in 2010! So, yeah, it sucks, but unless you’re Jeff Bridges getting drunk, you can’t escape this aspect of a remake.
Didn’t read my fancy words, here is the short version:
The Jungle Book took almost every fear away from being it being a remake. It was truly an adaptation. Showcasing probably the best CGI I have seen to date which allows a talented director and a myriad of stellar actors to move and breathe just as if it was all real. No surprise in the story, but it won’t matter when you here this: