Wednesday, October 5, 2016

DVD of the Week: The Jungle Book

I'm pretty wary about Disneys new "big idea" to go back and remake it's animated classics as live action pictures. I guess it's a decent way to keep these legacy properties (and their relevant merchandise) in the public eye, and it's easy to market to adults likely to bring their kids along due to nostalgia for the originals. But Alice in Wonderland was rubbish, and Cinderella was workmanlike, and now they've done The Jungle Book with realistic looking animals (mostly) and if it wasn't for the fact it got actually decent reviews I don't think I'd have bothered with it on principle. That said, I do have a nostalgic fondest for the original and I do have kids, so at the very least that part of the plan worked for Disney. 

So in a lot of ways, The Jungle Book is a "don't scare the horses" sort of adaptation, leaning heavily on the original animated movie, reusing a couple of the songs, but at the same time attempting to bring a more "realistic" take for the live action. A lot of credit for the film working is the care with the animation for the animals, and whatever alchemy it took to make Mowgli look like he's interacting with them properly. Without this, whatever other qualities the film may have would fall down, and for the most part, it's really successful. 

Story-wise it's pretty straight-forward. Shere Khan turns up early and demands the mancub be killed out of principle, and then acts as a more back-field presence as the kid moves forward through a series of scrapes and set-peices before coming back for the final confrontation. Idris Elba's tiger is properly terrifying - Robert had such a strong reaction to him, something I've never seen from him over a movie - and that attention to it's signature characters is one of the movies great strengths. The other two stand-outs for me where Scarlett Johanssens (sensibly gender flipped) Kaa and Christoper Walken's King Louie, both getting sequences with great visual and design flair. Both get to sing too, although Johanssens take on "Trust in Me" plays over the end credits and (sadly) not in the main film. 

The heroes are a little blander - I liked Bill Murray's take on Baloo, but at least in part because I like Bill Murray, and even just as a voice he's a fun presence, but with Bagherra a more distant presence that conflict between Mowgli's father-figures isn't strongly presented. This is partly due to a sensible decision to spend more time with the wolves, which I don't object to, but it still has a knock-on effect. Other moments, such as the Elephants, land wonderfully, as well as the generally sumptuous design work on display throughout. 

So as we started lamenting the status of Disney's remakes, it seems fair to end by saying that The Jungle Book is actually a pretty good film. It's a classically "family" film, and in fact all four of us (even the Teenager!) sat through it and enjoyed it, and Robert only needed a little bit of a hug to get over the scary tiger. It seems that Director Jon Favreau has been tapped up to make a version of The Lion King next, which is an interesting choice, so we'll see how that goes!