The Jungle Book (2016) Review: New Old World.
Remakes have always felt weird to me. They exist because of a desire to update an old story for a new audience, but only get made when the old audience still has nostalgia for the old story. Right there you run the risk of alienating the people who made it what it is, and most of the time striking indifference with the new generation. Most of the time it’s to be given a facelift. A top to bottom revisualization using new technology, and sometimes an old tale can be applied to a new world issue. Either way, remakes, like prequels, inherently feel unnecessary. It can be hard to shake the cynicism that follows them.
‘The Jungle Book’ is such a remake, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a waste of time. The story is essentially the same as the Disney animated classic. Mowgli is a human child who was raised by wolves, and is forced to run through the jungle as the evil tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba, hunts him down. As he makes his escape with the ever so faithful panther Bagheera, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, Mowgli encounters more of the jungle than he’s ever seen and along the way finds his place in the world.
The changes in the film are almost entirely tonal. The story has a greater sense of dread than the original, and the world itself has a much more dramatic feel. Having said that, it still has the joy of a grand adventure to go with it. There’s a great emphasis on “The Law of the Jungle” and with that comes an exploration of this bona fide animal kingdom. I enjoyed delving deeper into the politics of the jungle especially when it was mixed in with a degree of mysticism. Fantasy films are meant to be escapism, and what better way to escape than into a world which feels thought out and realised.
Of course, a world is nothing without its characters. They all interact like they know each other and that goes a great deal to crafting a compelling story. Jungle Book shines in this regard, no doubt due to its pitch perfect casting. Whether it’s for Christopher Walken as a mob boss King Louie or Bill Murray as a loveable ne’er do well Balloo, the casting director for this film should be given an oscar for this movie. I’m not sure if they do that sort of thing for casting directors…but they should give it to this one.
Lately, the art of the villain has kind of been lost in cinema, so it’s about time a really great one shows up. Everything from his imposing entrance, to his chilling dialogue, Shere Khan is an extremely compelling villain. There’s not a time he’s on screen that you don’t like watching him. At the same time though, he’s terrifying. There was many a scream in the theatre whenever Shere Khan growled.
In a year with 4 comic book movies coming out, I defy any of them to produce a villain as compelling as Idris Elba’s Shere Khan.
That fear by the way happens frequently in the film. By taking time to establish the stakes of the main plot, you start to fear for Mowgli’s life. I probably jumped two or three times, but that’s also because the scenes do a good job of developing tension. Unfortunately, there’s only so many times the man-cub can narrowly escape the clutches of his pursuer before it starts to lose its effect. Thankfully though, it’s right at the point where the bit gets old that the movie takes a turn to its grand finale.
I’m not gonna say this is a representation of when Shere Khan and Bagheera fight. But I’m not gonna say it’s not.
As much as the movie does to differentiate itself from its source, there’s a strong reverence to it as well. The movie opens up with the classic Disney logo, and there’s a familiar beat of the drum as you’re first introduced to the jungle. It is a fine line though, because while I’m certainly in the minority, I found the movie came to a grinding halt whenever it came time to play one of the old songs. It just felt as though they didn’t have a place in this version of the story. Every time the songs started playing, I was taken out of the film that had so immersed me.
All that said though, Jungle Book is a very good film that re tells an old tale in a new, well crafted way. It’s a visually stunning film that looks so good that I never stopped to ask myself what was real and what was fake. At its best it’s completely immersive. At its worst it’s too familiar. Something it does that most movies don’t though is make great use of its 3D. There are multiple perspective shots that are enhanced by being in 3D. Shots that really show the depth of field in a fantastic way. For the visuals alone it’s worth the price of admission, but there’s plenty here to keep you entertained and maybe even impressed, so it’s definitely a Big Screen Watch.
P.S Big props to Neel Sethi, the kid who plays Mowgli. Since most of the movie is completely computer generated (and all of his costars are), that dude had to act off of blue screens and ping pong balls and he is great. I mean this movie is really immersive when it wants to be and that wouldn’t be possible without this kid so, good on him. Here’s a picture of him on set so you know what i’m saying.
This kid had to act off of Doctor Manhattan’s hands with googly eyes on them. Screw Dicaprio.