The Jungle Book (2016)
Dir: Jon Favreau
The latest of many adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story, this version draws from both the source novel and the Disney animated classic, merging in little bits of Disney’s family favourite to create an enthralling and fun version of the beloved tale that still has some bite.
A human boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by wolves in the jungle, drawing the attention of man-hating tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba).
Disney are here continuing the trend of adapting their most beloved animated classics as live action films, which has worked surprisingly well for the last few years. I liked both ‘Maleficent‘ and ‘Cinderella‘ but I was concerned that this particular adaptation might pose a greater challenge, simply because of the inclusion of talking animals. This aims itself at a slightly older audience than the animated version, putting a little more emphasis on the dramatic elements of the story that were definitely there in the animated film but are all the more effective in this more ‘live’ format and it successfully comes together in a film that’s well-paced and very enjoyable.
What’s getting this film the most awards attention are the extensive visual effects. It may look like live action, however the animals (which you would’ve guessed) are GCI as well as the environments. That’s the bit that may surprise you even more, as we have seen incredibly rendered animals before (for a perfect example just look at ‘Life of Pi’), yet this beautiful and incredibly detailed jungle setting is all computer generated, almost everything apart from young actor Neel Sethi.
Sethi’s performance is fantastic, as a newcomer to acting it’s amazing that he does so well when you consider that he was acting in a studio environment with the other characters and objects added in later. It’s not always perfect, but when there’s so much on screen to enjoy, it’s only the pickiest of people that would watch his exact eyeline or criticise a child for not perfectly reacting to things that weren’t really there. Favreau worked hard to minimise any chance of that, even having puppets from Jim Henson’s creature shop on set for Sethi to act with, a lot of work that’s not seen on screen in any way other than a solid performance.
There are loads of big-name stars lending their voices to the jungle creatures. At times, I as an adult and film fan was aware of thinking “oh, that’s so and such” but for a younger viewer I don’t think that would be a problem. Once I got past each characters introduction, their voices worked really well for me. One key to this is how they use their own voices and accents, though they sound as they usually do, to me that’s not a bad thing, it would annoy me far more if any actor was trying to do something odd with their voice performance.
One of the best is Bill Murray as Baloo the bear. It’s genius voice casting! Firstly, he has a similar warmth to his voice as the original animated Baloo (Phil Harris), plus his well-known personality fits very well with the character’s friendly and laid-back ways so I quickly forgot it was him and enjoyed the character (who was always one of my favourite Disney characters anyway). There’s also a brilliant performance from Idris Elba, who easily manages to give Shere Khan the intimidation and menace required, his seep voice working perfectly for the character and making him a very compelling villain.
This film doesn’t go ‘full musical’ therefore it’s not exactly a live-action remake of the animated film, unlike the upcoming ‘Beauty and the Beast’ which looks like it will feature most if not all the songs (and at least one new track). That’s a bit of a shame as the original animation is so well-known for those songs and I felt that at least one or two more could have been worked in to this film without too much difficulty. It does feel as if Favreau’s arm was twisted to include any, there’s a sense of reluctance to take the film in that direction, only dictated by the studio and competing adaptations.
It’s a story that seems to endure and be appealing to filmmakers, as another adaptation (more directly from the original novel) is in production for a 2018 release, directed by Andy Serkis. With Serkis being the king of performance capture, that technique is being heavily used for his film, something that Favreau deliberately avoided overusing for this adaptation. It’ll be interesting to see how such a similarly technologically advanced production turns out, though it’ll not have the songs as it isn’t a Disney film which is probably why this version made sure a few were used, maybe it’ll be a more intense telling of the story more in the way that this might have been without any songs or Disney touches lightening the tone.
This was such a success financially and critically that a sequel is in the works, and Jon Favreau is also going to be directing a live action version of ‘The Lion King’ for Disney as well. I think they are even bigger challenges, following up on this with a new story, and then making an adaptation of the most acclaimed of all Disney animations which features music so prominently. For ‘The Lion King’ Favreau will have to work out how to incorporate songs more confidently or write a version that leaves them out completely, as audiences will want to know what they’re getting, and may not respond quite as well to another adaptation that reluctantly picks at bits of what made the animated films so beloved.
‘The Jungle Book’ is nominated for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at both the BAFTAs and Oscars this year and deservedly so. I think it may even stand as the current frontrunner due to the amount and quality of the CGI work.