Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Jungle Book Everyone Needed

The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don't have his best interests at heart.

In addition to the creative resurrection of Star Wars, the seemingly unstoppable commercial might of the Marvel films, and the by-now taken-for-granted genius of Pixar, the Mouse House has less noisily been updating some of its animated classics to live-action makeovers. Last year director Kenneth Branagh tried with Cinderella (with a huge assist from Cate Blanchett's venomous wicked stepmother). Aside from investing in top-drawer digital craftsmanship, perhaps the canniest move Disney made on this film was hiring Jon Favreau to helm it. After all, he already has one four-star family pic to his credit (Elf). Jon Favreau brings a welcome lightness of touch to this visually immersive adventure story. This film is a faithful and more mature reboot, it definitely rivals the looseness of Disney's 1967 animated classic, while succeeding on its own so well that such comparison are barely necessary. The movie is tender and manages to touch on some grown-up themes about man's destructive power and loss of youthful innocence without loosing sight of its first and foremost kids adventure. In fact Favreau never loses the sight that it is an adventure story for children. 

Tackling his first-feature role not only as the lead, but also as the only flesh and blood character, little Neel Sethi gets away with it pretty well; especially under what must have been challenging circumstances. This kid is killing it, keeping in mind that this little man is looking at nothing and acting. Green-screens have defeated actors with far more experience. From all the familiar plot beats from Disney's first Jungle Book, Favreau clearly understood that the Mowgli-Baloo relationship is the real key to the story. He slowed the film pace enough long to build up an effective core to their relationship. Now, Baloo voiced by Bill Murray... Could they have made a better choice? Murray as the world's most charmingly lazy bear is a brilliant idea. Plus, when the film gets it right: it sings. Can you picture Christopher Walken singing a song as a giant monkey? I was in heaven. Can you really get better than that?! Voice work is excellent all around, from Nyong'o, to Elba, Johansson and Kingsley. They're all perfect - not just in their voices, but also in the way that what is coming out of their mouths syncs up perfectly with the way their mouths move. It's the first talking-animal movie I've seen where CGI seamlessly bridges the uncanny gap between fantasy and reality and also one of the few 3-D movies that actually benefits from being in 3-D. 

This film is a masterpiece of CGI work. Those animals were real to me. Moreover, the animal effects are overwhelmingly successful. As I said before, it isn't just that the animal movement scan as real but they figured out just how much to anthropomorphize the animal mouth movements to make the speaking seem natural. Creators build this jungle into the type pf dangerous, sometimes pitiless setting that an average 10-year-old would nonetheless never want to leave. Favreau imposes a little bit more of a strict hero's-journey framework onto the source materials but never hint to that seriousness that tends to sour so many aggressively modernised fairy stories. Finally, if I were my 6/7-year-old self. I would grow up telling everyone around that this film is a classic, it would have been my definitive Jungle Book movie for the rest of my life. But I'm a grown up woman now, and I also think this film would be my definitive version of the Jungle Book for now on. I can't see another adaptation of this story being THIS good. 

Overall, The Jungle Book is one of the most visually sumptuous blockbusters this side of Avatar. Favreau's movie is more straight adventure than musical, but when Murray starts letting rip with a familiar tune, the film finally finds its groove.

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