THE JUNGLE BOOK REVIEWED
“The Jungle Book” is an amazing looking adaptation of the 1967 Disney animated adaptation of “The Jungle Book”. Well, it was more of an adaptation of the “Mowgli’s Brothers” chapter of “The Jungle Book”. Explaining later Victorian era British literature to people has been the bane of my existence for the last few days, so I’ll spare you a history lesson. What I will say is that hopefully we’re seeing the start of a franchise.
Rudyard Kipling was a rather prolific author who had a habit of cramming entire universes into single books. The Jungle Book is no exception, especially as it has inspired over a dozen animated adaptations from its chapters over the years. Plus, no one has ever actually adapted the entire novel. What did Jon Favreau, Disney and WETA do with this adaptation that set it apart? Well, nothing.
Favreau’s vision with the Disney property isn’t that different than what made Verbinski succeed with the Pirates movies. He understood that they needed to be slightly tweaked for modern audiences, but said audience still bought into the Zemeckis “Happy Meal” analogy from the 1990s. For those Tumblr folk and younger, I’ll explain the analogy. Mainstream audiences don’t want to be surprised. Think of any major film surprise and examine the response to it. “Jaws” cues your scares with John Williams classic music, same with “Star Wars” and any number of films dating back to the Golden Age. The same goes with the clear cut identifiers and signals used to say this equals villains and that equals hero.
The mainstream very rarely rewards true shock on film, especially in a kid’s movie. So, what we have here is Favreau helping Disney take a victory lap by shooting their 1967 animated classic in live-action. Well, mostly live-action. Neel Seethi played a very real and accurate Mowgli. There was the guy playing his dad in the flashback and I’m sure I saw a few villagers in a brief role. Other than that, it’s all CG animation. What progress!
In terms of adaptation, the film tries to appease everyone. We get a Shere Khan that’s the closest to Kipling’s vision ever committed to film. The majority of animals are factual and representative of their native locale. Plus, the CG and 3D work is some of the smoothest that I’ve seen in recent memory. While checking through that list, it occurred to me what didn’t work with the film. I had seen it before the 1960s Disney throwback logo was ever projected.
Between Classics Illustrated, the original books, the 1967 film, the Jason Scott Lee version and cultural touchstones, this movie is about as original as a Bazooka Joe comic strip. Familiarity breeds safety in an audience that now has to accept that Superman and Batman kill people, but Mowgli will always stay safe from a Bengal tiger. While contemplating this, I was wondering if I was just at a high point of media saturation or if stakes had been bred out of our fiction?
I’m swaying towards the passive safe spacing of our fiction as well as our reality. For years, Zemeckis took holy hell over his Happy Meal comments. But, the guy was right. It’s one thing to create a film for the aware and one thing to create for the entertained. While I was thoroughly entertained by the film, I have no need to see it again. That being said, I can see my daughter eating up. She’s never seen any version of the film before and Mowgli’s animal friends will make her smile. Novelty rarely finds a home in treasure adaptations and this shouldn’t be any different. Still, it’s Disney most polished live-action film in quite some time.
- Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
- Rating: PG