The Jungle Book (2016)

Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Marks

I am sure the topic has been breached and discussed at length in many different places and between many different people, but there is something to be said about the remake and its validity in today’s Hollywood landscape. It has become prevalent. A fresh, new take on a timeless tale. Certainly there is value to delivering a great story to a new audience, but as I sat down to this screening, I decided to post a rather snarky Facebook check-in about how The Jungle Book is in fact a Disney live-action remake of the 1994 Disney live-action remake of the 1967 Disney animated remake of the 1942 adaptation of the original 1894 novel The Jungle Book, with a Warner Bros. adaptation in the works for 2018. When is enough? When have we rehashed the same story enough times to know we’ve gotten it right, or is it endless? Is this story adaptable in different ways to every generation, who knows?

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a young “man cub”, living in the Indian jungle, raised by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and the rest of the wolf pack. Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) is a blank panther who mentors the young boy in the jungle, but when a great drought comes and uncovers the “peace rock”, the jungle calls a truce to drink the little water that’s left and outlaw hunting by the predator animals. Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a bengal tiger, smells the man cub, however, and vows to hunt down the boy once the truce expires. On the run from Shere Khan, Mowgli meets up with the tricky snake Kaa (Scarlet Johansson), the regal orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken) and the lovably lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray).

I’m sure my opening paragraph here sounded quite bitter about this film even getting made, and while I do question why certain stories are retold so many times in today’s movie landscape, I admit that The Jungle Book is a very fun and compelling story. Now, I have only seen Disney’s animated rendition of the story, but that is a film which I enjoy quite a bit, and I must say that with the technology available to director Jon Favreau and his team, making this new, 2016 version of The Jungle Book seems like an opportunity to present something new about the story, or at the very least to present it in a new way with the use of special effects and the like. Ultimately, The Jungle Book is a good film, well-made, and if asked I would easily recommend it as a good film to any who asked.

This is not like the 2005 Bad News Bears remake, which rehashed the 1976 original while adding nothing new to the equation. That remake was unnecessary, but The Jungle Book‘s tremendous use of advanced visual effects and art direction create a new kind of visual palette on which to paint this strong story, rendering a beautiful tale of man and the wild. It would be easy to dismiss this film as tree-hugger, environmentalist propaganda, and while those themes exist within the film, doing so would completely miss the very human story of compassion, friendship and teamwork which highlights the narrative which is delicately balanced by Favreau, and extremely successfully communicated by a stellar voice cast.

Neel Sethi, who plays the young Mowgli, in his first ever screen appearance does a good job, but not great. I admit there were moments where he reminded me a little of Jake Lloyd from The Phantom Menace, but there many more moments where his enthusiastic naivete flourish. The voice cast overall is great, calming the worry I had of losing the characters in the midst of these great stars. Walken and Elba in particular inhabit Louie and Khan extremely well, with Elba’s Shere Khan being exceedingly frightening. The Jungle Book is a visually stunning film with a good heart at its core, which can be a rare combination. It doesn’t redefine the classic Kipling yarn, but it doesn’t have to. Instead, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book allows the technology of today and the narrative of yesterday to blend into a fun, although at times very tense, jungle adventure.

*** – Very Good

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