(Central characters: Mowgli, Kaa, Louie, Baloo and Bagheera)
John Favreau’s new adaptation of The Jungle Book was a shaky mix of strong and creative elements and other more poorly constructed ones.
We all know the story, but for old time’s sake, let’s recap. So the story all revolves around Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as he grows up in an Indian jungle as a Man-Cub. Found by a militant jaguar, Bagheera (Ben Kinglsley) and raised by a wolf pack, Mowgli lives an exciting life as the only human in the jungle.
But when the vengeful and dominant Shere Khan (Idris Elba) returns, he threatens to kill the child who he predicts will turn into a blood-thirsty man.
In fear for Mowgli’s life, Bagheera and the wolves decide he needs to leave. With the guidance of Bagheera, the pair begin the long journey to the man village at the edge of the jungle. Yet Mowgli doesn’t want to leave his home and the only family he’s ever known. So he runs off and now fending for himself, he learns the true laws of the jungle.
(Mowgli and Akela)
On the way he meets Kaa, the snake (Scarlett Johansson) who reveals to him the dark story of his past and why he was abandoned in the jungle. But just before Kaa is about to strike, Baloo (Bill Murray) saves the kid’s life.
But as Baloo the bear and Mowgli build an unlikely friendship, Mowgli grows to realise he doesn’t want to live with man, but use his wits to survive in the jungle he loves. Yet before long, he learns that Shere Khan has murdered the leader of the wolf pack, Akela (sGiancarlo Esposito) and he runs back to the heart of the jungle with the intention of avenging his wolf father and stopping the dictator tiger.
Now some parts of this new adaptation of this much loved story of courage, friendship and belonging, was very impressive and creative, whereas others could have done with more work. But, let’s start with the positive.
The whole film apart from Mowgli was created in CGI. For the most of the film, the CGI was incredible. Shere Khan and Bagheera in particular had a sleekness and vigour that made their big cat presence dominate their scenes. Two more beautiful scenes was the one with the buffalo stampede and the fiery climax of the end. Both were dramatic, vibrant and exhilarating. The way Sethi blended into the CGI and worked with a non-existent cast or setting is commendable.
Another good move was changes made to Kaa and King Louie (Christopher Walken). The reason why Kaa’s voice was portrayed by a female in this film was because Favreau felt the 1967 film lacked female characters. Also, in the original film, Louie was an orangutan, however, this type of monkey has never been known to live in India. In Favreau’s film, they opted for a gigantopithecus, which in an ancestor of the orangutan and which was believed to have once lived in India. Also, the sheer size of this monkey led the Louie scenes to feel more intimidating.
Now onto the bad. One of the main issues for me was the use of voice overs for many of the characters that just didn’t feel right. Being an American film, a lot of the animals came out with squeaky or grating accents that did not fit with the Asian characters and took away from the natural flow and believability of the scenes. Naturally there is nothing wrong with using American actors, but the sheer contrast between the voice and the characters was too unrelated to work properly in this film.
A second problem was the music. We all love and know the original Disney songs and they were catchy and intertwined beautifully with the tone of the scenes. But in this film, the same songs, or at least their lyrics were used again. But in this case, it was frankly pathetic. The tunes were horrific and embarrassed the quality of the film and would have been much better left out.
Overall, the film had its ups and downs. The CGI and presentation of many of the characters and their scenes was a visual sensation and really drew on the dark and aggressive themes of the film. The use of Scarlett Johansoon as Kaa added a gender friendly element to the new adaptation and provided a new gender related dimension to Kaa’s character. However, the use of voice overs that cheapened the film and took away all authenticity and the trashing of beloved songs made some aspects disappointing to an extent that could not be ignored.
The Jungle Book 2016 is worth seeing if you want to see how the evolution of narrative treatment and technology have influenced the telling of a story over time, but expect some criticisms to arise along the way.
by Caroline Malcolm