Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Jungle Book (2016)

Year 9, Day 186 - 7/5/17 - Movie #2,680

BEFORE: I forgot to mention that I watched "Sing" on iTunes, because it wasn't available anywhere else just yet, and it would have seemed silly to try and catch up on animated films from the last year and not include that one.  But today I'm back on Netflix, for what I'm treating as another animated film with talking animals.  What's weird is that reviewers referred to this as the "live-action" version of "The Jungle Book", which is a very strange description for a film that I think was about 90% animated.  Sure, it's not cel animation like the classic Disney version of this story, and there's some live-action in it, but the animals are all CGI, right? 

"Live-action" is a term that comes from people who work in the world of animation and effects, and it's often used as a derogatory term for a movie without either of those, or the elements shot with real people that they then need to enhance with animation.  Most people don't use it when referring to regular movies, because they just call them "movies".  And most audiences probably don't care which elements of the film they're watching are real and which aren't, they just want to see a good story and believe what's on the screen.  But a "live-action" version of "The Jungle Book", which this isn't, would be impossible, because that would involve allowing a small child to interact with wolves, a panther, a bear and a tiger - you'd probably go through a lot of kids that way - and getting real animals to talk. 

I noticed the same thing with that recent remake of "Beauty and the Beast" - everyone called it the "live-action" version, to distinguish it from the cel-animated one, but there's probably so much animation and CGI effects in it, that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Scarlett Johansson carries over from voicing Rosita the pig in "Sing" to voice Kaa the snake in today's film. 

THE PLOT: After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery with the help of panther Bagheera and bear Baloo.

AFTER: I remember watching the first Disney version of this story when I was a little kid, Mom brought me to all the Disney films, and their re-releases over the years (Disney was the first true recycler, hauling out all the old animated features back out to theaters every decade or so, because there was always a new batch of kids that hadn't seen them yet - this was before VHS.).  I knew the voice of Sebastian Cabot because of his role as butler Mr. French on the TV show "Family Affair", and I later learned who Phil Harris was through his novelty records, but the other voice actors (Louis Prima, George Sanders) were just voices to me, maybe if I was hip I recognized Sterling Holloway from the "Fractured Fairy Tales" cartoons that ran during the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" show, I'm not sure.

But the 2016 version went for it with an all-star voice cast.  Ben Kingsley sort of mirrors the choice of Cabot, another British actor, for the Bagheera role, and I can allow the casting of Bill Murray in place of Phil Harris as Baloo, the goal I think is to contrast the upper-class voice of the panther with the lower-class voice of the bear.  Giving the seductive snake the voice of a woman is an interesting choice, and casting Christopher Walken as King Louie seemed a little odd, but turned out to be an inspired choice.  When we first see the King of the Monkeys, who was an orangutan in the 1967 but claims to be an (extinct) gigantopithecus here, the way he appears in shadow and runs his hands over his head seems to be a clear reference to Marlon Brando as Col. Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now", and Walken's voice manages to drive that point home.  (Brando's character was also large, slighty loopy and almost like a cult leader in an Asian temple..) 

I had to go back and review the plot of the 1967 Disney film, to see where this one deviated.  Really, I should say that the first Disney film deviated quite a bit from Kipling's novel, where Mowgli's story was told in a series of non-connected episodes, each with its own moral lesson, and Walt Disney reportedly handed Kipling's book to a screenwriter and told him, "The first thing I want you to do is to not read this."  Instead they wove some of those story elements into one longer narrative tale, and that story is repeated here.  The credits say that this 2016 was "based on the Kipling novel and inspired by the 1967 Disney film", but I'll wager that it's really the other way around.  It seems more like they kept the "one long narrative" from the first Disney version, and if something didn't seem to work, like the elephant march with Colonel Hathi, then they dropped it and replaced it with something else, possibly from the original book, that served the same purpose - to forge a connection between Mowgli and the elephants.

And they only kept three of the Disney songs, namely "The Bare Necessities", "Trust in Me" and "I Wanna Be Like You" - the first of these is sung "bearly" by Baloo and "barely" by the kid.  Seriously, they cast a kid who could run, jump and interact with animals that weren't there, but he can't carry a tune?  And how come they can make animals appear to talk, but they can't dub in a good singing voice for Mowgli, what gives?  But honestly, the songs just seem silly when set against the seriousness of the storyline about predatory animals, the laws of the jungle and the dangers of dealing with fire...why did we need the musical numbers at all? 

I keep focusing on the 2 Disney versions, but all in all, "The Jungle Book" has been made into a movie at least 7 times - and surprisingly, another version is planned for 2018, made by Warner Bros., not Disney.  Disney was first to get their "live-action" (CGI) version released, but the competition started working on one that's all motion-capture/CGI, and despite this version's success, they haven't changed their plans.  Meanwhile a sequel to this one is also in the works, and the same director (Jon Favreau) is also planning a "live-action" (CGI) adaptation of "The Lion King".  Hey, if a movie makes money, leave it to Hollywood to keep making different versions of it. 

Also starring Neel Sethi and the voices of Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Self/Less"), Bill Murray (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)), Idris Elba (last heard in "Zootopia"), Lupita Nyong'o (last heard in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Giancarlo Esposito (last seen in "Money Monster"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Eddie the Eagle"), Garry Shandling (last seen in "The Dictator"), Jon Favreau (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Sam Raimi (last seen in "The Flintstones"), Russell Peters, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony.

RATING: 6 out of 10 honeycombs

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