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THE JUNGLE BOOK (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling
Review by Gilbert Seah
Favreau has proven himself a talented director of films as diverse as the action flicks IRONMAN and IRONMAN 2, comedy dramas as MADE and the drama CHEF. Tackling Disney animation is a totally different ball game with Favreau succeeding within limits. But he follows formulaic conventions occasionally going back to what works in the original animated JUNGLE BOOK like the familiar songs re-used in this version.
The 1969 animated version is the most loved of all the Kipling adaptations. Who can forget the cute bear Baloo (Phil Harris) dancing and singing “The Bare Necessities” with Mowgli? Or Sebastian Cabot’s voice of the Panther? So Favreau has tough shoes to follow.
The film opens with Mowgli (Neel Sethi) running with a pack of wolves. It appears he is running from them, but the audience can likely guess that he is running with them. Mowgli, abandoned as a baby and found by a panther (Ben Kingsley) is raised by wolves. But Shere Khan, the tiger (Idris Elba) wants the boy killed as the tiger is afraid of the destruction of man. The panther takes Mowgli on a journey to find the man camp where Mowgli can live away from fear of the tiger. Mowgli meets an assortment of different characters like King Louie, a giant oranghutan (Christopher Walken), Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) and Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) a python before confronting Khan.
THE JUNGLE BOOK has quite the few violent scenes that will give the littler ones nightmares. These include buffalos toppling off a cliff from a mudslide and a fierce battle between a tiger and bear.
CGI has come a long way. One cannot tell the difference between real animals and computer generated animals. To Favreau’s credit, his film looks fantastic and his hard work of filming just one actor, Sethi against a giant green blank screen pays off. The film uses the Simulcam technology (also used in James Cameron’s AVATAR) that allows Favreau to look into a monitor and in real time, see Sethi interacting with the CGI animals.
The question finally arises as to whether this new 3D live-action animation of THE JUGLE BOOK is necessary. The film ends with the real life figures of Mowgli and Baloo morphing into caricatures in the Rudyard Kipling’s book. This only serves to enforce the fact that the animated version is the best type of adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling’s classic story.
Walt Disney passed away during the production of 1969’s JUNGLE BOOK. The original writer and songwriter were replaced as the film was thought initially too serious for the family. What resulted are songs by the famous Sherman Brothers (MARY POPPINS, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG) and the the totally delightful animated version everyone is familiar with. Favreau’s version is, in comparison all over the place, at times cutesy, then too serious and violent and then adventurous. The Disneyworld documentaries have so far done so-so at the box-office. And Disney’s recent THE GOOD DINOSAUR with a similar theme involving animals and a journey was a disappointing flop. THE JUNGLE BOOK might just follow suit, doing either so-so business or flopping at the box-office.
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