Friday, 15 April 2016

Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book (2016) (2D)
Cert: PG / 106 mins / Dir. Jon Favreau / Trailer

Putting it on front-street, I wasn't too enthusiastic at the prospect of a 2016 retooling of The Jungle Book, mostly because I don't see the classic animated version as something which needs to be improved upon. But credit where it's due, Disney pulled it out of the bag in recent years with Maleficent (a wry re-imagining of their earlier work) and Cinderella (a straight-up adaptation). So as much as I'm not the target demographic, I could at least keep an open mind as I sat through 27 minutes of shrieking targeted-ads aimed at under-tens and their parents. After all, Disney are experts at what they do, and this film is helmed by the director of Iron Man, what's not to love..?

Well, this film is helmed by the director of Chef. A film which I didn't detest, but which is also basically a live-action cartoon and took every opportunity to get me on-board but squandered it by shouting 'Hey! Look, this is cool, isn't it? Wow! Yeah!'; a 'man-trick' which seems firmly embedded in Favreau's arsenal, now.

There is plenty to love in The Jungle Book, I just didn't love it.

I never managed to clear the hurdle of photo-realistic animals with recognisably human voices; not least because the stunt-casting of most of the main performers doesn't really match the kind of animal they play, somehow (prime example: As likeable as he is, Bill Murray is not the voice of a bear. John Goodman is the voice of a bear*1). Another major bugbear is Neel Sethi's central performance as Mowgli. I can't fault the kid for trying, but he's one step away from "Yipeee!" and a podracer, frankly*2.

On the musical front, the film is accompanied by a very Williams-esque score by John Debney, swooping and soaring at the right moments without telling you what to be feeling too much. And on the musical-musical front, it appears that the urge to reference the songs from the 1967 classic was too strong to fight. A dialled-down rendition of Bare Necessities carries enough goodwill to earn its place as an aside from the main narrative, but Christopher Walken barking his way through I Wanna Be Like You is unforgivable, the song being stripped of its context is this retelling of the tale and feeling completely out of place. But for those pining for more melodic nostalgia, the closing credits feature the film's voice of Kaa, Scarlett Johansson, performing her own rendition of Trust In Me. Which brought this immediately to mind.

Despite my moaning, I didn't dislike The Jungle Book, I'm just disappointed I didn't connect with it more. The worst part is that as classic as the story is, and as timeless the themes, there wasn't anything in here that I hadn't already seen elsewhere. And not just in the animated version.

But y'know what? the film looks gorgeous and is exquisitely, clinically, assembled. Maybe it's that precision which isn't sitting right with me. Not as much fun as the 1967 animation, nor as reverential as the 1942 live-action adaptation. Disney can, and have, done better rejuvenating their own properties, and this feels like another remake for the sake of it.

But it should keep your little ones entertained (the sizeable audience at my local today enjoyed it thoroughly), and I'll be genuinely amazed if it doesn't win a raft of technical awards, and maybe even get pushed towards Best Animated Feature (since, proportionally, that's exactly what it is).

Oh, and hang around for a special scene after the credits*3:

INT. A study. 1892. Day.
A Man (1) sits at a desk, holding a pen and staring blankly at an equally blank sheaf of paper.
Another Man (2) enters.

Man 2: Alright Rudyard! How's the book going?
Man 1: Well, having a little trouble getting it off the ground, if I'm being honest.
Man 2: What's it about, then?
Man 1: Erm, the book's set in the jungle, and it's sort of about the jungle.
Man 2: Well have you got a title sorted, yet?
Man 1: Nope, drawing a blank. Although I'm sure something witty and/or enigmatic will present itself…


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Oh, The Lone Ranger, I imagine..

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the visuals, yes.
Although it's also worth noting that I only watched the film in 2D

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me, not enough.
Your mileage will vary

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Maybe not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I think I heard one in the bison-stampede sequence, but I'll go with no.
Although that hawk-screech is present and correct

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The Jungle Book is directed by Pre Vizsla himself, Jon Favreau, and features the performances by Lupita 'Maz Kanata' Nyong'o, Andy 'Snoke' Serkis and Dee 'All Of The Clones' Baker.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ The visuals are a solid 6, but it still left me shrugging my way out of the cinema…

*1 This is what happens when you cast established lead-actors in voice-roles, rather than casting voice actors. Although that still doesn't explain why they didn't cast John Goodman as the bear.

*2 And I say that as someone who loves The Phantom Menace. Jake Lloyd's performance may be wearing, but I can forgive it as it's surrounded with Star Wars. Mowgli doesn't have that to fall back on, I'm afraid.

*3 I made that up. Not just the sketch, but the 'after-credits' thing. I left mid-way through. There could be something there, but it didn't feel like that sort of film, to be honest with you. Plus, I didn't know if they were going to let Scarlett sing another song...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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