REVIEW: The Jungle Book (2016)

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Before I get into to it I’ll say upfront, The Jungle Book works (mostly). It’s a good movie, but…

Why does this movie exist? Primarily this is just Brand management. Now that it’s realized how stupid the direct-to-dvd sequel game was to its overall image, Disney is in the business of making “live-action” adaptations of their animated catalog. (Although, these movies have so much CG in them, especially this one, that they’re basically animated but with real actors.) Up to this point these adaptations have all seemed to me like corporate sell out trash. Frankly I didn’t watch 2015’s Cinderella or 2014’s Maleficent, so I also can’t claim any real knowledge on how those movies turned out.

These films are all made under different production companies anyway, so there’s no real connection other than a general trend of Disney making live-action re-imaginings of their catalog, rather than simply re-releasing those classics as they used to do. The Jungle Book (1967) itself was re-released 3 times in North America (In 1978, 84, and 90) and it stands as one of the most successful movies of all time.

That being said, the original is not without its flaws. It’s very much a product of its times, and a bunch of stuff in there doesn’t hold up. But that stuff was dated and weird by the time I saw it as a kid and it didn’t matter. The pop cultural references that are being made are subtle enough (Although not subtle at all in hindsight) to fly over the head of a kid. The important parts of The Jungle Book are those iconic moments that stick with you: probably most importantly “The Bear Necessities.”

And that’s what got me in the theater honestly. Ok, good buzz helped, but all my cynicism of the trailer boiled down to “How are you gonna make The Jungle Book without songs and then Baloo starts whistling “The Bear Necessities” and I’m like “well shit, ya got me.”

This is a “darker” version of this story, and there’s historical precedence for that. Originally The Jungle Book was going to be a darker movie under Bill Peet, until Walt Disney himself stepped in and threw out almost everything to make a much more lighthearted take on the material. The big thing that carried over: “The Bear Necessities.”

The Jungle Book (2016) is directed by Jon Favreau, and he clearly has reverence for the original film. Though it’s tone and style is very different the goal here was not to create something new, it was to take what worked about the original, update and modernize it for theater attending audiences in 2016. It’s basically just successful at that.

But I’m a bigger fan of traditional animation than this realistic style CG. I think that the long term iconic staying power of the original is its greatest strength and nothing about how this new movie looks or sounds is going to stick with me long term.

This movie is also guilty of using big name actors instead of memorable voice-actors. I love Idris Elba, but his version of Shere Kahn just does not hold a candle to George Sander’s performance. Bill Murray’s rendition of “The Bear Necessities” is never going to supplant the original, sung by Phil Harris, or even be something I’m going to listen to again. Scarlett Johansson’s version of Ka… at least doesn’t just sound to me like evil Winnie the Pooh, so I guess that’s a win actually.

There are other little plot details that bug me, but those are mostly just nit picks, not worth digging deep into here. I just don’t think this movie ever justifies its own existence. I’d put that into contrast with movies like Creed and A Force Awakens, which although live entirely in the shadows of earlier movies still found their own way to grab my imagination with new characters and imagery. There is new imagery here, but it just doesn’t really grab me. For something that I think is ultimately pointless though, I enjoyed myself and liked it.

Take that for what it’s worth.