Wed, 4 May 2016
I think it's safe to say that Disney is enjoying a fairly successful 2016 so far. Disneyland turns 60 this year. Captain America: Civil War opens this week (More on that later, I'm sure) and has already set a presale ticket record. Zootopia just crossed $900 million worldwide over the weekend. And The Jungle Book has ruled the US box office for the third week in a row and topped $700 million worldwide this past weekend. As I finally got around to seeing it, I suppose I contributed to that number (As well as Zootopia and Captain America: Civil War now that I think about it) so let's discuss which is to say let me scrawl like 3-4 more paragraphs about it below with mildish spoilers.
The Jungle Book becomes the latest Disney property to make the translation from animated musical to a live-action blockbuster (Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in 2010 really kicking off the trend) though to call it completely live-action is a bit of a misnomer. Obviously all the wildlife in the film are computer-generated to great, photo-realistic effect but the environments are too; Mowgli himself being one of the only real-world elements of the film. Director Jon Favreau wisely recognized that shooting the flick on location or to physically reconstruct the jungle in a studio were fool's errands so he built the environments largely from photo-references taken in India.
In that sense, The Jungle Book succeeds mostly as a technical marvel (Yes, I saw the film in 3D and it was phenomenal) with Mowgli seamlessly blending in with the flick's lush environments and varied animal cast. If you hadn't known the environments and some of the animals were entirely visual effects, you wouldn't be able to guess.
Storywise, most of the familiar faces and beats are here from the 1967 original: Newcomer Neel Sethi competently carries the film on his shoulders as Mowgli, Ben Kingsley voices the wise panther Bagheera, Bill Murray voices the relatively carefree Baloo, and Idris Elba voicing the menacing Shere Khan (Between this and Zootopia, it seems adding Elba to anything makes it better...let's see if that rule stands after Star Trek Beyond). The mesmerizing Kaa is gender-swapped into Scarlett Johansson who, along with Lupita Nyong'o as Mowgli's surrogate mother figure Raksha, break up what was the 1967 boys' club of the jungle. More head-scratchingly is Christopher Walken as King Louie reimagined here as King Kong-sized and given half of the film's musical numbers. That's right, just like the 1967 original, a couple impromptu songs crop up. They function as nice nods to the animated movie but happen so infrequently and late in the game that they feel particularly out of place and obtrusive.
The Jungle Book is the best live-action remake of a classic Disney property (Cinderella probably being the worst) to date. While, fortunately, not a shot-for-shot remake of the animated movie, it really captures the spirit of it with the same wonder and free-wheeling energy. And, though I hadn't watched the original Jungle Book recently, watching this felt like revisiting old friends from days gone by. Disney, if you bring up the standard of your live-action remakes to this, I want live-action remakes of EVERYTHING.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 3:15pm EDT