Monday, April 11, 2016

'The Jungle Book' Is a Spectacular Experience

As a kid, I loved revisiting The Jungle Book – particularly Mowgli’s story – since the premise mightily appealed to me.  I’ve read and watched this tale unfold in various versions in various media (the 90’s especially had a few obscure live-action films about it) through the years, including the classic 1967 Disney cartoon.  It’s enjoyable and delightful, but in my opinion, it’s one of the weaker Disney animated features.  In addition, most notably, I hated that Kaa the python was portrayed as a villain in that version.

The recent live-action 2016 movie, however, which reimagines the classic 1967 Disney animated film, is easily a superior film to its source material (by that, I mean the cartoon, not the book).  Yes, Kaa is still portrayed as a villain in it – and I still hated that aspect – but aside from that, I found the movie quite spectacular.

If nothing else, The Jungle Book is visually glorious.  Every shot is stunning and gorgeous.  I’ve never seen such breathtaking CGI world since Avatar, and its wonderfully meticulous CGI animals are much more incredible than The Life of Pi’s.  All the action sequences are impeccably thrilling.  The magnificent visuals alone make this movie worth watching in a theater.

Narrative-wise, it expectedly follows some key plot points from the cartoon.  However, the tone is grittier and closer to that of Rudyard Kipling’s work.  And though it’s a familiar story that I’ve already encountered in various forms, it still succeeds in being endearingly distinctive and having heart.

The acting on this movie is terrific.   And I’m not only pertaining to the engaging voice acting of its stellar cast – which includes Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), and Christopher Walken (King Louie) – but the actor of Mowgli as well, newcomer Neel Sethi.  Coming into this movie, I thought that he was going to be its weakest link.  But he surprisingly delivered a believable, splendid performance.  Considering the fact that he was doing most of his work interacting with green screens and mo-caps, the young actor is worthy of commendation.

The Jungle Book is, by far, Disney’s best case in validating its recent endeavor into making live-action films which reimagine its classic animated films (which I initially thought was a bad idea).  Kudos to director Jon Favreau and his team for crafting this very beautiful, gamechanging film.  It’s truly an immersive experience, full of excitement and fun.
Miscellaneous musings:
  • Seriously, the only thing I hated about this movie was Kaa.  Again, I hated that the character is portrayed as a villain.  Also, I also think Scarlett Johansson gave the least compelling voice acting among the cast.
  • A curious choice made in this movie was making King Louie a Gigantopithecus – an extinct genus of ape – instead of an orang-utan, as what the character was in the original animated film.  It’s because the orang-utan isn’t a native of India, the setting of the story, and thus, it was decided to turn him into a Gigantopithecus.  However, he still has features of an orang-utan.  Actually, to those who would miss the fact that he’s actually a Gigantopithecus – which would probably mean most of the moviegoers – he would be confusingly mistaken as a giant orang-utan.
  • Another curious choice was making Raksha – Mowgli’s adoptive mother – the new leader of the wolf pack after Akela’s death.  Wow!  An Alpha Female?!  That would bother some people.  Is there a political/ideological undertone behind it?  Is that even possible in a real-life wolf pack?
  • Here’s another curious detail:  Warner Bros. also has a live-action Jungle Book movie set for release in 2018.  Andy Serkis (notable mo-cap actor) directs, as well as voicing Baloo.  Other names attached to the film are Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan), Cate Blanchett (Kaa), and Christian Bale (Bagheera).
  • The most logical Disney animated movie that should get a live-action reimagining is The Black Cauldron, and yet there are still no announcements or rumors that one is in the works.  Come on, Disney!

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