Movie Review: The Jungle Book | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Movie Review: The Jungle Book

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Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m pretty cynical when it comes to visual effects in modern film. Too many movies these days fall prey to a syndrome I like to call CGI Barf. That’s when the screen in almost totally full of complete CGI creations that don’t look realistic in any way. Look at Star Wars Episodes II and III for many examples of this. I still think MOST of Phantom Menace holds up, but those latter two prequels? Woof. So, when I saw the trailer for Disney’s latest live action remake of The Jungle Book, I didn’t have much hope for the actual final product. And who could blame me?! CG has become so overused in Hollywood, we all got super excited just to hear that Episode VII was going to have some puppets in it! But there was one factor I clearly forgot about when I was thinking of The Jungle Book, and that is director Jon Favreau. And if there’s one director who you don’t underestimate, it’s the guy who launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Jungle Book is basically a simple retelling of the original Disney animated film of the same name. You’ve still got Mowgli (Neel Sethi), who gets caught up in the drama of the jungle and is forced to leave his home in order to keep himself and his adopted wolf family safe from from the nefarious tiger Shere Kahn (Idris Elba). The basics of the plot are the same, with some necessary improvements. It’s been a long time since I saw the original Jungle Book, so the details are fuzzy, but Mowgli seems to have a more active role in the plot here (particularly in the third act) than he did in the original cartoon. There’s an impressive amount of world building during the first act which makes the stakes of Shere Khan’s threats much higher than one might expect from a children’s animated film.

And animated it is, nearly everything save Sethi himself is a CG creation. I don’t say this often, but the CG in The Jungle Book is tremendous. There are only a few instances of things looking weird or half-baked. Otherwise the flick looks amazing. Stunning vistas and deep dark jungles are rendered in spectacular fashion. If you didn’t specifically know that this flick was shot entirely on a soundstage in Burbank you might never even realize it. It is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking and Jon Favreau deserves all the praise in the world for crafting such a stupendous looking film.

But, The Jungle Book isn’t perfect. In it’s effort to remake the original film, it hews a bit too closely to the source material in a few key ways to its detriment. Much like the original Mowgli moves from adventure to adventure, while meeting all the myriad creatures. But not all of these events are really necessary. The bit with Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa comes to mind. Johansson isn’t bad, but the scenes with Kaa bring the pace to an abrupt halt. The only real reason Kaa exists in the story is to convey a bit of plot to Mowgli that honestly could have been done by any other number of animals that Mowgli encountered. And while this Jungle Book isn’t a musical, a few of the original film’s musical numbers crop up from time to time. Sometimes they are handled perfectly (The Bear Necessities is perfect in it’s presentation), and other times not so much. In particular, the presentation of I Wanna Be Like You seems totally and tonally out of place. It’s not that I don’t like Christopher Walken as King Louie (I think he’s amazing both in his voice acting and motion capture), it’s just that this song is played very traditionally which doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It’s a small quibble, but something that I noticed.

Special Effect aren’t. That’s always been my watchword. I’m cynical about overuse of CGI in film. So, when a movie comes along that makes me actively excited because of the effects—well, it’s got to be something special. Jon Favreau is already established as a tremendous director and he doesn’t disappoint. Add to this the great voice acting (including what I assume is the late Garry Shandling’s final performance, not gonna lie, it got a bit misty when I heard his voice) and the tweaks to the original Jungle Book formula and you have a remake that arguably bests it’s forbear in nearly every respect. As far as live action remakes of the Jungle Book go, you (and Disney) could (and have) done far, far worse.

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