The Jungle Book (2016)

Jon Favreau has done it again. I think it’s fair to say that we can lump him into the same elevated category as JJ Abrams, in terms of technical prowess and overall understanding of the medium of film, as an art and as an enterprise. Every single movie I’ve seen of Favreau’s, I’ve liked, to one degree or another. Even the ones that didn’t exactly blow my skirt up, like ‘Elf’ (2003), or the Jumanji rip-off ‘Zathura: A Space Adventure’ (2005), still had enough good shit on display to be worth my time. That being said, even with advance knowledge of his role as Director / Producer, I wasn’t initially hyped for this ‘yet-another-updated-adaptation-of-a-work-that’s-already-been-tackled’ event film / product . Then I came across a highly favorable review on one of the many movie-related Geek Sites that I frequent, and I suddenly found myself intrigued. I pondered it for a moment and came to the conclusion of ‘Why not remake ‘The Jungle Book?’. The most notable version was the classic Disney animated version from 1967, one that I must’ve seen as a wee one but definitely don’t remember now. And it’s not like original author Rudyard Kipling’s admittedly solid bibliography is sacred material, somehow held above the potential of various interpretations by over-zealous intellectual snobs. Most of his stories are well-written and interesting, and I have no problem at all if people opt to use his writing as source material. Bring it on!!!

Sometimes it’s tough to find fare in the cinema that caters to each half of a relationship equally, but when I heard about the allegedly well-realized content, I mentally jotted this one down as a ‘Date Night’ (or in our case, Date Morning) type of flick. So we just got back from checking it out and I’ve gotta say…pretty damn cool! Nice job, Favreau and Co.!
For those of you out there, ‘The Jungle Book’ takes place at an unspecified time period in the misty and dense jungles of India. In these jungles, there’s a young orphan boy named ‘Mowgli’ (Neel Sethi), found and raised by a pack of wolves from a young age. He lives in a sort of balance with the animals and the hostile environment, and is mostly accepted by the various species that inhabit his particular stretch of wilderness. One day, the well-established class system is shattered by the threatening arrival of a large, burn-scarred cyclops of a tiger named ‘Shere Khan’ (Idris Elba) who seems intent on threatening everybody in the area into giving ‘Mowgli’ up for some reason…probably for a snack. ‘Mowgli’ reluctantly chooses to leave the area and make his way back to the ‘Man Village’, to remove the threat to his adopted family and to himself. He’s accompanied by a stoic and wise bad-ass of a black jaguar named ‘Bagheera’ (Ben Kingsley), and the two encounter much danger and treachery along the way. Something else they encounter is a huge, lazy-ass bear named ‘Baloo’ (Bill Murray) and his wacky posse of wacky animals. The narrative then becomes valuable lessons of Acceptance, Self-worth, Teamwork, Friendship, and Family, packaged in a really cool-looking adventure movie package.
We had a lot of fun watching this one (in 3D, incidentally). It really is a well-crafted adventure film that literally all ages can get something out of.
Finding out that the entire film was shot in “Downtown Los Angeles”, was a testament to how fine-tuned some of today’s computer graphics artists are out there. Here, the animals and jungle environments were beautifully rendered. Take a good look at any of the hairy animals, the texture and detailing in the movements are incredible and with a couple minor exceptions, looked photo-realistic the whole way through. It was impressive.
The Cast here is an absolute dream. On top of Murray, Elba and Kingsley, we also get Scarlett Johansson (‘The Avengers’), Christopher ‘ALWAYS GOOD’ Walken (‘True Romance’) , Giancarlo Esposito (‘Breaking Bad’), the late Gary Shandling (‘Iron Man 2’), and Lupita Nyung’o (‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’), and they’re all good. Props also have to be given to young newcomer Neel Sethi. To carry an entire Big Budget Studio Film like this, in nothing but a red loincloth, is no small responsibility…and this kid did a bang-up job, inn my opinion. I totally bought him as this character and he didn’t annoy me once…which is saying a lot when it comes to most Child Actors.
The jungle setting, for an almost completely CG environment, became a character unto itself and I didn’t find it distracting. I think the variety of vibrant / dour light schemes went a long way to keep it all visually interesting and necessarily distracting. There were only a few times were it took on a fake-looking digital ‘sheen’, similar to what happened in the recent ‘The Hobbit’ films. But mostly…it just worked.
We opted to see this one in 3D, as the story labors to put you in the jungle with ‘Mowgli’ and it effectively uses the 3D format to accomplish this. It feels very expansive, not rife with stupid ‘poke-you-in-the-eye’ visual gimmickry. The closest it came to THAT, was the cool myriad of dust motes, mist, particles and burning embers flitting through the settings and adding depth and atmosphere to the proceedings. It was also visually light enough to still make out nice detailing after the glasses had gone on. That was a problem I had with the two times I saw ‘The Force Awakens’ in 3D…too goddamn dark! There was only one sequence in this one, toward the end, where I found myself fighting to make things out, but that certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker.
If I had to dredge up an issue, there was one plot-point that happened toward the climax that I found a little silly and hard to swallow. There’s a scene where ‘Mowgli’ makes an important strategic decision and subsequently puts EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING in mortal danger. Sure, the damage was eventually undone (more or less), but the consequences are far more reaching than the movie leads us to believe. It just made me snicker. But the rest of the movie, even the songs (yes…there are songs…that are handled tastefully and don’t outstay their welcome), allows me to easily dismiss this critique as nothing more than my own occasionally-unfair cynicism.
All in all, I had a good time with ‘The Jungle Book’ and am glad that I took the time to see it on The Big Screen. It really is a movie for all ages…one that’s had some care put into it’s creation (and a shit-load of cash!), and feels like a true adventure flick…like many films from 80’s that so many of us grew up with and love. The characters are all well-handled and thought-out, there’s a good dose of subtle humor, just enough violence to give the flick some ‘teeth’ and to make the stakes all the more dire, some beautiful cinematography and editing, and solid use of the 3D format, coupled with terrific sound and a very reasonable run-time of 1 hour and 45 minutes. You really can’t go wrong, whether you have kids or not. Quite simply, ‘The Jungle Book’ is very good movie that was fun for us to see in the theatre. Go check it out!

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