The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau
The new “The Jungle Book” is the fourth Disney film based on the Mowgli character from Rudyard Kipling’s stories. It’s essentially a “live action” remake of the 1967 classic, albeit it that the only live action character is Mowgli (and a few other briefly glimpsed humans), with the animals being CGI renditions rather than the trained animals of the 1994 version.
It’s also an adaptation that seems to be trying, perhaps a little too hard, to do several things. Two female characters (Raksha the mother wolf and Kaa the snake, which is a gender switch, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o and Scarlett Johansson respectively) have been padded to make the film more gender balanced and director Jon Favreau reportedly decided to make King Louie a Gigantopithecus rather than an orangutan because orangutans don’t live in India. Which seems like an odd attention to detail given that it appears to replace an out of place species with an even more out of time one, and one which is depicted more like an overly large, building-destroying super-villain than the comic relief King Louie of old.
And one might question that quest for authenticity in a film about a boy growing up with talking animals that get along, for the most part, extraordinarily well and which strays so far from Kipling’s stories. Yes, the action should take place in India but Kipling also wrote about a boy with calluses from running on all fours and here we have a boy played by a young actor who trained in parkour and who uses all manner of tools and contraptions as though simply being human means that he can invent things he’s never seen. At times it feels more like he’s been raised by “MacGyver” than by wolves.
Not that this is a film that ought to be picked apart like that – although at some level it deserves it when you hear of an attempt to be accurate that somehow seems so out of place. (Similarly, if Mel Gibson hadn’t made extreme claims about the authenticity of “Apocalypto,” it might simply have been seen as a pretty neat adventure yarn.)
Paying less attention to the details actually yields a very pleasant cinematic experience, with wonderful visuals and neat CGI character animation, albeit at times the mouth movements during speaking looking a little like pet food commercials. Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi, is again attempting to avoid Shere Khan (the voice of Idris Elba), the tiger who has sworn to kill him on the principle that no human belongs in the jungle with the animals, not even a ‘man cub.’ As well as having been raised by wolves, Mowgli’s been protected since being found in the jungle by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a black jaguar/leopard, and is befriended by the opportunistic bear Baloo (Bill Murray).
Two of the most popular songs from the 1967 film are reproduced here, with Sethi and Murray singing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken as King Louie singing a much darker themed version of “I Wan’na Be Like You.” However it’s hard to imagine the new versions inspiring decades of humming and sing-alongs, absent the originals, with “…Necessities” meandering away from the melody and Walken having a tough act to follow singing a song made famous by Louis Prima. On balance, in a film that isn’t overtly musical, they feel a little out of place even for somebody like me who was looking forward to them.
Overall, however, it’s a fun film – perhaps best enjoyed without too much side by side comparison (which seems to be a theme this week). It’s also an interesting story to ponder in other ways: Is Shere Khan really such a villain if he genuinely sees Mowgli as a threat to the jungle? There’s a revenge story here but he’s also not entirely wrong about Mowgli or about man in general. A couple of weeks ago, Bruce Wayne felt the same way about Superman and he wasn’t the arch-villain of that story.
In 2018, we’re due for yet another adaptation, again with an all-star cast and motion capture CGI, this time by Warner Brothers. For now I’m happy to recommend the current “The Jungle Book” for the visuals but I’d still be inclined to listen to the 1967 soundtrack on the way home.
In “Criminal,” Ryan Reynolds plays a spy who’s the only person who knows the whereabouts of a hacker who compromised US weapons systems – which would be less of a problem if he lived long enough to share the information. Tommy Lee Jones is a doctor who’s working on transferring memories from brain to brain and Kevin Costner is a felon who’s picked to receive Reynolds’ memories. Costner’s character is the best known candidate for this as his brain was injured and left undeveloped when he was young – but that condition also makes him have zero compassion or restraint. And so the film revolves around the two psyches and sets of memories competing for space in one brain – which causes Costner to remember being Reynolds and causes the audience to remember Reynolds experiencing the same things in last year’s “Self/less.” That said, it works fairly well and gives us a central character who we want to succeed, who isn’t bound by the rules of normal heroes – it’s similar to the older action hero vibe of films like “Taken.” I enjoyed it but I’m a somewhat biased Costner fan.
In 1993, Richard Linklater made a film about soon to be freshmen encountering upperclassmen, pot and alcohol before the new school year starts (the last day of the previous school year), featuring football players and a guy who is much older but likes to hang around that crowd. In 2016, Richard Linklater has made a film about soon to be freshmen encountering upperclassmen, pot and alcohol before the new school year starts (the weekend before), featuring baseball players and a guy who is much older but likes to hang around that crowd. 1993’s “Dazed and Confused” focused on students entering high school and 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some” focuses on students entering college, but other than that the new film seems like a re-visitation of the themes of the first, albeit with less pinching of the bridge of the nose (that ought to make sense if you’ve seen “Dazed and Confused”). “Everybody Wants Some” is well made and pleasant enough, it just seem very familiar and might actually be better enjoyed by somebody who doesn’t have the comparison to make.