Adventure, Drama, Family
Directed By: John Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray
For Fans of: The Jungle Book (1967), The Lion King, Robin Hood
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Let's face it, once the name's started announcing for who would be voicing characters in this film, we all did a little wee in excitement. The small boys and girls in all of us wanted to believe this could in some way elevate us to the same plateau we were on when watching the original 1967 film at a young age. But I have two important questions which, we will focus on whether this film was a success or not. Which one will I be showing my future sprogs? And would they take this one to their heart as I did to the old one? Important questions indeed, as for me this is the true question of all remakes and reboots happening across nearly every film in Hollywood right now. Are films like this really necessary?
It's been a while since 1967, but all they appear to be (for me) are massive cash grabs. 'Success guaranteed' because we all rush out to the cinema, we loved the old one and whether it be curiosity more than anything else, we part our hard earned cash to see usually weaker versions of films we love.
Let's start with one quite startlingly clear observation, this film was absolutely beautiful and yes, it completely took my breath away at parts with some of the scenery shots. Credit where it's due, from the moment the 'Disney' castle disappears into some jungly brambles it is simply, visually stunning. This is definitely something you would not say about the original, though I'm sure many will say "that’s what makes the originals so great, is that authentic Disney classic feel to the cartoon imagery". But you can't argue, it looks better really so it's 1-0 to the new one.
Now let's get into characters, Mowgli is played by newcomer Neel Sethi, and what a performance he gives. It really can't be easy acting when the characters you would be feeding off are non existent. But to do it at such a young age staggers me. I think he makes the character endearing from the get go, which is exactly what the film needed. Had this one character not been right, the whole film would have been a write off, a heavy burden on such young shoulders. Yet the young pup pulls it off and then some and despite the obvious disconnect they must have had while making it, the connections between Sethi and the animal counterparts never feel fake. This is where John Favreau must take a lot of praise also, his direction has clearly been solid. In some ways I much preferred seeing a real person tackle Mowgli than the cartoon version. It just simply gives the character much more realism and depth. So astonishingly the new film is now 2-0.
Now this section is probably where my opinion and your own may part somewhat. The animals.
For me, it's hit and miss quite spectacularly here. I absolutely loved some of it, but really disconnected with a few. Ben Kingsley plays Bagheera the Panther. This was a hit no doubt. Great voice acting and a feeling of sincerity in the relationship between the panther and the man cub. Idris Elba as Shere Khan the Tiger? Wow. Just 'wow', I thought every time the tiger was on screen there was a real energy and excitement for what would happen next. It's fantastic work from Elba and for me it's the real stand out positive of the movie. Shere Khan is simply so much more bad-ass in this film than he ever could have been in the older movie. So for those last two it's another goal in the opposition net making it 3-0. Its surely game over now right?
Well let's just see shall we. Haven't you ever heard the phrase “A review of two halves?” Bill Murray plays Baloo, exploding on to the screen, you can hear the whole cinema audience elevate once that iconic voice sounds. And for the first couple of scenes he is in, the humour is evident and it seems to be working, but here is my first disappointment. It tails off somewhat the longer the screen time, the energy of the character fades away slightly, and it's the much weaker version of 'Bare Necessities' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAhmdvKlrcY) that grates on me most. It's not terrible from Bill by any means, its just more spoof than good. I know this was never going to emulate the musical film of old and going up against the iconic disney voice of Phil Harris (also responsible for adored roles like Little John in Robin Hood and O Malley in the Aristocats) it was always a big ask. One which, i’m afraid to say, couldn't be achieved. Scarlett Johansson plays Kaa the snake, it's decent actually in the most part, but the lack of song means you just can't love this character. It feels almost a throwaway character in this version. The only purpose it serves is to tell the story of how Mowgli came to be left in the jungle and why the tiger hates him. Which, in all honesty, seems like any other character could have told that story. So this falls flat for me. And now to the biggest disappointment of all: Christopher Walken as King Louie.
My first grim realisation of how much I loathed this version of the character was when he was revealed out of the darkness, he’s a fucking giant! Why? Why on earth in a film that was going with realism as its stand out quality against the cartoon of old would they throw a giant chimp in? It makes absolutely no sense at all, and it couldn't fall more flat in my eyes. Now Walken’s voice is brilliant, that is undeniable, but again, it's the piss poor version of 'King of the Swingers' that I can't look past.
Like Murray’s 'Bare Necessities' it feels almost like a bad spoof. And I don't even think before we got to the song I was particularly enjoying King Louie. Something felt off from the moment that crazy wacky voice started, it surprised me as I thought if there was one banker in the whole cast, it was this. I couldn't have been more wrong. But there is life in the old 1967 team as they slip one past the keeper 3-1. Now we get on to the real bones of it all. Did I have fun watching this movie?
It's mostly a 'no' I’m afraid. I loved the excitement out of the real action in the film and some characters casting was spot on. I also cant deny my nostalgia bone twitched considerably the moment i heard that beautiful theme music. But here’s my real issue, where was the fun? With 'Bare Necessities' and 'King of the Swingers' the only other music, I felt this film lacked the real child like fun needed to make the Jungle Book of 2016 better than its elderly relative. Thats a massive issue for me and it's an immediate own goal from Favreau who appears to have forgot that's the reason we loved the Jungle Book in the first place. That's 3-2 and momentum is well and truly with 1967 Jungle Book now!
It was also a little bit of a head scratcher that some characters speak and some don’t. So none of the monkey’s speak, but their ridiculous large leader can?? The elephants don’t speak at all? So you lose the entire character of the Colonel and the young elephant son from the classic version’s parade. One of my favourite disney moments. Again this is a massive loss for me and another lack of fun. Every film needs balance but Baloo’s limited humour could only carry the rest of the film so far. So it's another goal for 67, 3-3 and moving into injury time.
The clincher was always going to come back to the questions at the start. Which one am I playing to my future kids? And it's 1967 Jungle Book hands down. 4-3 to 1967 Jungle Book. You may argue this one wasn't meant to be solely for kids. It's even PG on account of probably how bad ass Shere Khan is at points in it. Dare I say it, there are a few scenes a little scary for a younger audience. But I’m a 30 year old. And I also want to sing silly songs alongside my slices of action please. If I played both of these movies to Gaz Jnr, I would expect him, like me, to favour the original. The characters in it are far stronger, the music is better, the warmth of the film surrounds you like a warm furry blanket and although the new version as stated above way surpasses it visually, there is something about those authentic classic Disney animations which just soothe you. This is in no way a bad film, it's actually pretty solid and decent as films go. As already stated, it looked beautiful but there is only one Jungle Book I will watch again in the future. And trust in me, it's got the bare necessities! (Too Cheesy?) Oh 1967 Jungle Book you are so good, leaving the new version just wanting to be like you, ooh ooh (sickeningly cheesy? I can't end a review there surely?).
EDITORS NOTE: BUT HE DID. WHAT A DICK.