The Jungle Book (2016) Review

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I have a confession; I was never a fan of the original Disney animated version of The jungle Book. I liked the songs, and I seem to know them by heart. But as a child, when it came to Disney films (pre Beauty and the Beast), I’d watch The Sword in the Stone and Sleeping Beauty over and over. But even though it was never one of my favourites, I have a full appreciation for those who took The Jungle Book into their hearts as children. When it comes to Disney, we all have our favourites, our guilty pleasures and the ones we just didn’t get – for me I didn’t get Dumbo.

But knowing just how beloved The Jungle Book was had me approach the Jon Favreau directed live action (ish) version with trepidation. Disney has recently been taking a few liberties with their recent live action remakes. I was bitterly disappointed with Maleficent, my favourite Disney Witch was humanised. I didn’t want that. She was a cruel badass woman bitch who wanted to kill a teenager and then turned into a dragon. But then watching Maleficent, I was manipulated into feeling empathy for her. I was betrayed.The same for Alice in Wonderland, I felt that Tim Burton missed the mark on so many areas and it never sat right with me.

What a relief I felt when I came out of seeing The Jungle Book.

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I have seen the film twice now, the first time I was it in IMAX 3D, the day after I returned with a friend and watched it in 2D. Let me get one thing out of the way before I actually attempt to review the film – during the 2D version I was unfortunate enough to sit next to a group of people who’d decided to come to the cinema for a chat. They filmed sections of the film of their mobile phones and also were browsing expensive watches online. Now, I’m not being shady, but one of the girls had the worst body odour, it was as persistent and uncomfortable as a crying baby on a transatlantic flight. I was inclined to ask them to shut up during the film, but she looked like one of those mouthy bitches who got off on being rude to others in front of her friends. So I left it, knowing that I’d seen the film the day before.

I’m going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible…

For those who don’t know the basic story of The Jungle Book, It’s an adaptation of a novel written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. The hero of the film is Mowgli, a young boy who is raised by Wolves. After a dry summer,  a “water truce” is called, where all the animals can come to a place called Peace Rock which is exposed as the water level in the river drops. The law states that while the rock is visible, animals can drink without fear of being eaten. “Water comes before food” Bhageera informs us. At Pride Rock, our antagonist, Shere Khan, a Bangal Tiger warns the Wolves they must surrender Mowgli as a “man cub will become a man” before the rains come. With the return of the rain, Mowgli decides to leave with Bagheera and journey to the “man village”, and enroute he meets Baloo, A Bear and con-artist, whom he befriends.

Over the course of 1hr 45mins the story is tight and moves a long nicely, the sequences of action push the PG certificate slightly, and may be too intense for younger viewers. 99% of the film has only 1 human actor; Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli in his first major film role is excellent at bringing both the naivety and innocence of a child growing into a man and his courage is inspiring. This has much to do with Favreau’s excellent direction and understanding of how to tell the story.

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The animal characters themselves are brought to life with some of the best computer animation I have ever seen. Pixar set the bar with cartoon creations and Weta Digital evolved photo-realism in CGI with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Avatar – This takes it further. Watching the film I was totally engrossed in the characters and was sold on them being talking animals. I was never surprised by Baloo’s deadpan sense of humour, voiced by Bill Murray or the seductive and deadly Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. My only ‘perhaps they should have cast someone else’ moment was the first time I heard Idris Elba voice Shere Khan. I have been a fan of Idris Elba for years. Luther is one of my favourite TV shows and his voice does have gravitas, but during the first scene I didn’t feel the terror of Shere Khan that I should have. Saying that, by the final act, I did have the sense of dread and danger that his presence brought to the film. Another impressive piece of casting is Christopher Walken as King Louis. Who approaches the role of the power hungry “King of the Swingers” as the head of a Mafia family. It’s a nod to some of his unforgettable role of Vincenzo Witting in Tony Scott’s True Romance.

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The Jungle Book’s original Disney animation is famous for it’s unforgettable songs. As someone who didn’t watch the original often as a child, it’s odd that I know all the songs word for word. That’s a testament as to their quality. In Faverau’s version, he manages to get a couple of the songs in, but without it feeling like a Disney musical. It’s expertly done and with the score including themes that those who are familiar with The Jungle Book will remember, they manage to weave together something special. A film that respects both Rudyard Kipling’s source material and the 1967 Disney animation equally.

I’m not a big advocate of 3D. I do think that it’s a bit of a gimmick – most of the time, but I am a massive fan of IMAX, and seeing this in IMAX 3D really did add something extra to the film, particularly in scene when it rained or we moved through the jungle in a first person perspective. The extra dimension gave the film a level of immersion that is lost on so many 3D films. However, seeing the film in 2D and enjoying it just as much proved that the story, pacing and characters is what holds this film to the excellent standard.

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Jon Favreau shot to fame as the writer and co-star of the independent film Swingers in 1996. Independent film at the time was going through a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and even though he has acted in many roles, it’s really his direction of Elf in 2003 and Iron Man in 2008 that solidified his reputation has someone who can be be trusted with bigger budgets and eventually, popular franchises. With the Jungle Book, he’s managed to create a film that takes his abilities as a director for the 21st century to a new level. (and he’s great to listen to in interviews.. he knows his craft!)

I’d highly recommend seeing The Jungle Book, even if you don’t hold the affinity to the Disney classic. It’s a marvellous accomplishment in story telling, computer animation and for me, this is my favourite film of the year so far.

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