Published on April 30th, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
THE JUNGLE BOOK – REVIEW
There’s something quite eerie about Disney’s latest obsession with turning their kid-friendly cartoon animations into photorealistic, live-action recreations. In the case of director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book it comes complete with all manners of fanged and clawed carnivores that bite, scrape, and snarl at the defenseless, child protagonist Mowgli. Here, the dangerous, yet fun and alluring charms of the jungle in previous adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story are instead full of real-world peril and horrors not befitting a young child.
This might sound like a negative, but on the contrary. What is most astounding about Favreau and the people of Weta Digital’s latest creation is just how incredibly life-like their The Jungle Book appears. At the end of the credits one would expect to see a long list of foreign locales that were utilized to recreate this fictional jungle, here they’ll be surprised to see only one location: Los Angeles. Yes, every creature, tree, river, and breathtaking landscape was created in a computer, with the filming itself focusing on two elements: Neel Sethi as Mowgli and a green screen.
After Avatar and Life of Pi, The Jungle Book represents a bold next step for this digital technology with a less-ambitious story that is classic Disney. While the animals are never fully convincing, there are moments where the various creatures surpass their taxidermied appearances and could pass as the real things. The result is a The Jungle Book audiences have always dreamed of, even if the verisimilitude means it might be far too scary and violent for young audiences that love the cartoon.
Most of the story of the animated The Jungle Book remains; Mowgli starts off on a journey towards the man village, aided by his panther friend Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and bear Baloo (Bill Murray), all while Shere Khan (Idris Elba) hunts him down. Like the previous film, The Jungle Book‘s story operates as a series of small vignettes that test Mowgli’s relationships with different animals in the jungle and how his unwavering innocence inevitably has him trusting in the wrong character time and time again.
In this adaptation each character is reacting to Mowgli’s “talents” as a human, principally his ability to produce destructive fire, which they call his “red flower.” Shere Khan wants Mowgli dead before he can destroy the forest with it, Baloo wants to harness his skills to bring in a bounty of honey, and orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken) wants to use the fire to rule the jungle. The question of what to do with Mowgli provides an intriguing through-line to the movie that helps to stitch these disparate stories together all while commenting on man’s inherently destructive tendencies towards nature.
Unfortunately, The Jungle Book falters in its third act largely because the film has to serve many separate masters, chiefly Disney’s desire to turn the series into an all-ages franchise. The inclusion of two songs from the animated classic don’t fit in this new adaptation’s style and come across as fan service and way to sell records instead of service the story, as they originally did. The same is true with the ending of the film, which undermines the film’s core ideas and themes in order to deliver a happy ending and set up a sequel. It is a cheap and unearned ending further complicated by sloppy geography that sees Mowgli spending half the film going from the watering hole to the man village, only to run back between the two in a the span of a minute all for the convenience of the plot. The final showdown with Shere Khan is terrifying and a stunning example of what modern digital artists are able to render, but audiences may find themselves agreeing with the murderous tiger more than they are comfortable with.