The Jungle Book(2016)
- RatedPG /GenreAdventure, Drama, Fantasy
“Oh, oobee doo. I wanna be like you…”
By the time the giant ape King Louie starts singing the iconic song, it becomes clear that 2016’s ‘The Jungle Book’ does aspire to be something like its predecessor from half a century ago.
At the same time, it strives to be its own movie.
Consider this the inevitable trial by fire, or “red flower” (as the animals call it), that every remake has to face: striking the right balance between being a respectful homage to the original, and being fresh enough to stand on its own.
Sometimes it works, as did Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’ last year. Sometimes, it doesn’t. ‘The Jungle Book’ does not really swing into either category.
Jon Favreau’s live action adaptation of the 1967 Disney animated classic is as fun as a vine-swinging companion would be, but one that would be left hanging and easily forgotten once play time is over.
Found in the jungles of India as a baby, the “man-cub” Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by a pack of wolves and under the watchful eye of Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the panther that found him.
He is comfortable and more or less at home in the jungle, as long as he does not feed certain human tendencies that are not considered wolf-like.
But when the vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence and vows to kill the boy (as he does all humans), Mowgli is forced to leave the jungle for human society.
And as he crosses paths with the bear Baloo (Bill Murray), King Louie of the apes (Christopher Walken), and multiple other friends and foe along the way, one thing that remains constant is his appetite for innovation, and his reluctance to leave.
Very much like Mowgli, ‘The Jungle Book’ straddles two worlds -- between live-action and CGI. It works decently well as a remake. And at the same time, there is an underlying current that it can never truly belong in our hearts, or win us over the way the original did.
‘The Jungle Book’ is not particularly emotional, exciting and memorable. It comes nowhere close to replicating the magic of the original, even when it forces in two of its source material’s most famous songs (while still not technically being a musical).
And yet, it isn’t bad. There is a sense of charm and visual magnetism that still holds our attention.
It seems that these live action remakes, boldly attempting to repackage Disney’s most famous, timeless and critically acclaimed titles, do find a way to work in spite of whatever weaknesses they might have. And it is all because Disney has so far struck gold in securing talent for these projects.
Like Angelina Jolie’s memorable performance in ‘Maleficent’ and Branagh’s superb direction in ‘Cinderella’, director Jon Favreau steers ‘The Jungle Book’ into pleasant and somewhat appealing territory.
With directing credits that include two ‘Iron Man’ movies, ‘Zathura’ and ‘Elf’, Favreau’s comfort with action, adventure and lighter family fare is evident in ‘The Jungle Book’. Favreau knows how to bring life to and create intrigue in scenes that are, once the visuals are stripped aside, pretty dry.
Perhaps this dryness has to do with the fact that ‘The Jungle Book’ is mostly faithful to the original, and introduces few innovations in spite of its multiple plot alterations. It stays in territory that is too familiar to be interesting.
Even the very impressive animation robs the already straight-forward narrative of depth in exchange for visual splendour. The animals, all brought to life with CGI, achieve striking realism at the expense of emotional connection. They aren’t allowed the human-like expressiveness of their 1967 counterparts, and so are hard to empathise with.
But Favreau still manages to make his film visually interesting, especially during its most climactic moments. The action soars, the threat of a lurking predator penetrates the air, and the danger and majesty of the “red flower” (fire) is captured beautifully. Even if the tension and emotion are not significant enough to truly elevate the film, at least Favreau manages to create them in an otherwise uninteresting journey.
Then there is 12-year-old Neel Sethi, who makes an impressive feature film debut as Mowgli. Appearing in almost every scene as the only cast member with a live action role, Sethi fills the screen with his boyish charm, magnetism, and youthful energy. He truly carries the film, and helps to inject life where the computer-animated characters can’t.
‘The Jungle Book’ could have been really good, with all the talent packed into its roster. It also could have been bad, because it falls short on inspiration, spark and ingenuity. Instead, it is neither.
What we get is a jungle adventure that is pleasant enough to embark on but dry enough to quickly forget.
It has, if you will, “The Bare Necessities” to stay alive in the wild. But that’s about it.
'The Jungle Book' opens 7 April 2016