THE JUNGLE BOOK (Disney)
Dir. Jon Favreau, Script. Justin Marks
Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi
Plot: Disney’s remake train continues with a lush, mo-cap heavy revisiting of the famous 1967 Disney animation.
When it comes to remakes, I’m not a massive fan – especially when (as is usual) the films said to be in need of a remake are classics, that to me shouldn’t be touched. As a kid, I maybe watched the original 1967 Jungle Book film, in all of its 2D, hand-drawn animated glory, 10 or so times. And I will say that, after the new, Jon Favreau-directed remake came to a beautifully subtle, retro ending harking back to the era in which the original movie was produced, that I still found myself thinking of a 2D Baloo and a 2D Mowgli by default, although I will definitely admit that this movie was absolutely justified in being made.
In terms of technological innovation, Disney’s new version of The Jungle Book is a flagpole on the motion-capture moon. The film is a live-action/CGI hybrid, but only in the loosest sense of the word, as only some of the environments and Mowgli are actually live-action, and you wouldn’t believe it. It really is a staggering achievement on the part of Disney that this film can poke its head amongst the likes of Avatar and Life Of Pi when it comes to sheer brilliance in CGI. It makes the direction of Iron Man (and its less satisfying sequel’s) Jon Favreau all the more impressive, as he directs with real confidence. There are lovely touches in his work of an film from the old days, but combined with the very peak of modern technology. There are a couple of moments when Favreau uses shots that do feel slightly artificial (including a Zack Snyder quick-zoom shot), but overall it feels not only confident but understated. Favreau knows how good the technology is – he doesn’t have to try and make it any better.
But as incredible a CG-experience as this movie is (and probably worth the price of admission in itself), it wouldn’t mean anything if there wasn’t something substantial story-wise, and I’m delighted to say its pretty well written. Screenwriter Justin Marks has a really good handle on the source material, and he takes the best bits of the original film and gives it just enough darkness to feel like a more mature movie, but without alienating the kids (the film’s a PG, and opened better than most Marvel solo movies in the USA – proof that, along with Deadpool on the sweary side, you don’t need to be a 12A to make blockbuster money). The motives are well thought out, and the world creation is actually really tremendous, and its mythology totally believable. While it doesn’t break from the norm, this is a seriously good bit of writing from Marks.
The film’s casting is also bang on the money – an arrow in the bullseye from 10 miles out, in fact. Looking through the above cast list is like looking through a sweetshop, a smorgasbord of some of the finest, well-recognized voices in the world, and Neel Sethi, an open-casting find who is a terrific Mowgli. It’s difficult for any actor to act to motion capture dots, but Sethi does it tremendously, and he’s a great mancub. The best thing The Jungle Book did was get Bill Murray on board, because he is a perfect Baloo. It is unquestionably the legendary comedian, with the bear having the signature Murray dryness and wit that has made him so iconic. Ben Kinglsey is mature and magisterial as Baghira, adding a lot of gravitas that the film’s story sometimes needed. And Idris Elba is absolutely menacing as Shere Khan – he’s an absolutely spectacular villain, and Elba’s voice-work is nothing short of a tour-de-force. The motives of Shere Khan are completely justified. While he’s a nasty bit of work true, he’s one that you can most definitely understand, even sympathise with. And while their roles are cameos, the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson’s nearly-Oscar-nommed voice and Christopher Walken’s signature drawl only add to the film’s colour.
One definite flaw – I feel the film could have justifiably been 20 minutes longer, and I know exactly where they should have been. The friendship between Baloo and Mowgli just becomes one with barely any build-up, and I feel that if Favreau had spent more time on them the film would have had a bit more to invest in. And, on that tangent, the rushed friendship between bear and mancub makes the film’s overall pace feel off, as does the shift into the finale, which very much happens in a flash. But I’ve got to say, as much as this isn’t my Jungle Book movie, it’s going to be a very good one for a lot of people, and its really a superb achievement that everybody who worked on it can be proud.
BEST WATCHED: The tech is too good to miss in a movie theatre.
It’s looking like the team of director Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks will be returning for a sequel in two years, quickly greenlit after the film’s colossal opening weekend. This only adds to a long list of upcoming announced scripts from Marks, who also is slated to write the long-awaited return of Iceman and Maverick in Top Gun 2. The rest of the cast has so much coming up its too long to write here, but Scarlett Johansson is currently filming the big-budget adaptation of classic anime Ghost In The Shell, which released its first image of Johansson in character in the last few days. Idris Elba is in a film literally this weekend, starring with Richard “Not The Best Wedding If I’m Honest” Madden in action pic Bastille Day. And Bill Murray is in an upcoming Wes Anderson film, as true a statement as saying that there will be a sunrise tomorrow (or moonrise, if you know your Anderson).