The Jungle Book – More Than The Bare Necessities

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Remakes are a cause for concern in the world of cinema. Not many of them work, or can hold a candle to the original. An almost all CGI/digitally rendered version of the Jungle Book? Brave? Yes. Worth doing? No.

My thoughts until I saw the trailer.

It looked dark, exciting and very real, but that did not mean the film would be the same. Luckily it was.

Like most people who had a childhood, Disney films are remembered fondly. None more so than the 1967 version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The story, as I’m sure all the readers know: human child Mowgli lost in the jungle as a baby, raised by wolves and hated by the tiger Shere Khan. The movie is iconic for its characters and its catchy tunes.

The 2016 version, directed by Iron Man‘s John Favreau, is a darker and more grown up version but still retains its sense of fun. The plot is basic, but you don’t need something intricate; it is the performances, visuals and action that make the film a joy to watch.

It certainly is brave to make an almost exclusively CGI movie (I suppose it would have been braver to do a live action movie with a child acting with dangerous animals). We’ve all seen the flack that the Star Wars prequels and Hobbit movies got for excessive use of the green screen.

Here it works though. The jungle looks beautiful; from the muddy ravines and hillsides traversed by herds of wildebeests, to the wolf packs home and Baloo’s lush looking place of residence. The animals look amazing as well. Very real (I should know, I’ve been to Monkey World and Longleat) and you can see a lot of work has gone in to making both appearance and movement accurate. The only minor gripe is the smaller animals, which to me at least, looked very computer generated.

However, it is the voice acting that makes this film. Every single one is spot on. Idris Elba perhaps steals the show as the menacing Shere Khan, hell bent on killing Mowgli. He makes the character wonderfully menacing and intimidating. He really makes the tiger sound like someone to fear.

Of course, Bill Murray is great at as the fun loving Baloo. His singing voice might not be the best but if you cannot enjoy his rendition of the Bare Necessities then there is something wrong with you, you joyless misery. Sir Ben Kingsley is also wonderful as the wise protector of Mowgli, Bagheera.

You can almost run down the cast list and tick off every one doing a voice as top drawer. Scarlett Johansson in her brief appearance as Kaa is eerie and Christopher Walken puts in a great turn as the no-longer-an-orangutan King Louie.

Neel Sethi, as the only real thing in this movie, also does well. It seems a very natural performance and it looks like he’s having fun with it. Don’t forget this is a kid in his first major role working with, for the most part, things that are not there.

The best compliment you can give to the voice acting is that now, in my head, those actors and actresses voices are those characters whereas before seeing this I could still hear those from the 1967 version. Elba et al have over ridden those voices in my mind.

The Jungle Book is a beautifully crafted retelling of a classic story and well worth seeing. I only saw it in 2D but have a feeling it is one of few films where 3D works.

Oh and stick around for the end credits.

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