The Jungle Book (2016) - review

Door Janreviews gepubliceerd op Friday 15 April 10:30

Almost half a century after the animated film was released, there is a new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. It’s a new version of the story and our favourite characters Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan and Kaa are all back.

This film was shot entirely in front of a blue screen, which made me a little sceptic toward how it would look. I must say, it doesn’t show at all. This probably has to do with every frame being carefully managed so it wouldn’t look fake. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that Mowgli looked out of place. Although none of the scenes are actually real, the characters come across as real. There isn’t any overacting by any of the animals. A scene at the beginning that shows Shere Khan disrupting a peaceful meeting, which reminded me a lot of Maleficent’s first scene in “Sleeping Beauty”, could have easily been overacted. The tiger just menacingly uttered his threats to the wolf pack without any evil laughter – I was literally thinking “Please don’t laugh, please don’t laugh, ...”. I also appreciated that we see that Mowgli gets scratches from all the branches he loves to climb on. On several occasions, we see him with a bloody knee or a bruised arm and this also helped in making the film seem real.

Something else that I liked about this film was the sound. I don’t think that there is a single scene where everything is quiet, which is fantastic, because the jungle never is quiet. We hear birds singing, insects buzzing and at times frogs croaking. This also contributed to the realness of the film.

“The Jungle Book” is paced really well. You never think of the time! This is due to some fun minor characters, especially in the first act, when Mowgli is still living with the wolves. Mowgli bumps into some animals at the peaceful meeting which Shere Khan disrupts later and they each have funny interactions with each other. Toward the end of the first act, we see a frog literally brushing the rain off its head. Gems like this moment make this film a pleasure to watch.

The script is great material for the talented animal cast (Bill Murray, Sir Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson and Giancarlo Esposito). Although the mass adoration for Murray is a mystery to me, I really loved his performance as the (luckily) walking-on-four-legs Baloo; he has a splendid line after he briefly sings “The Bare Necessities”, look out for that! Nyong’o also delivers a great performance as Mowgli’s adoptive mother Raksha. I commend her on her performance, but especially the writers because they didn’t write her as an overly sentimental mother, but a loving and strong character.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the different appearances of some of the animals. In the animated film, the elephants are depicted as humorous (one of them acts like a military commander, another looks very sleepy, ...) but in this adaptation, they are respectable animals. Bagheera tells Mowgli that they created the jungle, so they have to be respected. Films like “Tarzan” or “Ice Age” have imprinted this image of huggable, goofy elephants into our brains, but they are quite intimidating in this film. Another animal whose character was changed drastically is King Louie: he is also very intimidating instead of humorous like in the animated film. This intimidating quality is augmented by the setting, because we meet him in a shadowy ruin, where he appears to be much larger than he already is. The monkeys that bring Mowgli to their king are actually quite scary. I’m glad that they weren’t given any lines, because that added to the suspense created by Mowgli being thrown from tree to tree. Lastly, the vultures hardly appear in this film. They are only shown to be eating from a carcass and they don’t have any lines, which was a good decision, because vultures are associated with death, so they shouldn’t be humorous like in the animated film.  

The only thing that felt out of place was Walken singing “I Wan’na Be Like You”. Not only does his voice not suit the song (or the character to be honest), the arrangement is quite strange. It feels quite upbeat, but at the same time intimidating and it didn’t really work for me. A more sinister instrumentation would’ve fit the mood.

In a year where ‘diversity’ has been a main topic in the entertainment business, I am happy that this film mostly features actors of colour (Seethi, who plays Mowgli, is of Indian descent, Nyong’o is Kenyan, Sir Kingsley’s father was Indian, Esposito’s mother was African-American and Elba’s parents came from Western Africa).

As you may know, Warner Bros. is releasing another adaptation of Kipling’s books two and a half years from now. There is only one actress of colour involved in that film, but they do have some great voices like Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch. I have no idea how that film’s look will appear in contrast to this one’s. I actually cannot imagine how that adaptation would be better than this one. I’m still going to see it, but I’ll be extra critical, because it is such an awkward situation to have two films that are based on the same story to come out so close to each other. This is not the first time that this has happened: Friends With Benefits/No Strings Attached and Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down were released even closer to each other and they didn’t even have the same source material. There are probably many more examples of this situation, but this Warner Bros. vs. Disney situation is extra weird because they’re both based on the same books.

“The Jungle Book” is a must-see for everyone. Children will love it because children love animals - they still do, right? - and they will relate to the easily excitable Mowgli, who feels like an actual boy and not some clever adult who just looks like a child. Adults will love this film because the story is compelling, the performances are outstanding and the visuals are stunning.

 

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