Thoughts On: The Jungle Book - Live-Action?


The Jungle Book - Live-Action?

Thoughts On:  The Jungle Book (2016)

A man-cub raised by a pack of wolves must leave the jungle when Shere Khan the Tiger begins to hunt him.

I'm not a fan of Disney's live-action remakes. However, as I begrudgingly realised that next year will not only bring a live-action version of Dumbo, but also The Lion King, I stopped and thought: the only live-action Disney film that I've sat through is the rather terrible Pete's Dragon. I've seen snippets of both Cinderella and Beauty And The Beast, but could not care to give them any attention. Maybe I've been judging these movies too harshly then - and without even properly seeing them. To rectify this and give live-action Disney a chance, I sat down and watch what is probably the most critically acclaimed live-action remake they've made: The Jungle Book.

To come straight to the point: this is certainly overrated and not very good at all. Having heard many times over people suggest that this is better that the original and was made with good reason, I can only shake my head with confusion. The 1967 Jungle Book is not a masterpiece, but it is a complete film, its form and content in harmony with one another. The story is certainly simple and without real depth, similarly, the animation is only satisfactory. But, each of the 8 original songs make this a classic, that is, along with the brilliant chemistry between the vast array of characters. The live-action Jungle Book improves upon the original in only one clear respect: story. Everywhere else, it falls short.

The plot and general logic of this new narrative follows the lead of the general aesthetic and so leans on realism, always searching for verisimilitude. Without a doubt, this is where the new Jungle Book trumps the original animated version. Not only does this then feel more sensible and complex in its plotting - in finding motivation and reason for each set-piece - but this brings out a hero's journey with a few alterations to Mowgli's character, making him less childish and selfish and far more mature. This is more than welcome as I can't imagine the original Mowgli would be bearable if presented in live-action.

With that said, the story provided in the re-made Jungle Book is not too much more complex than the original. Both deal with a search for the true self; the re-make does so far more explicitly. What brings the story down in Favreau's film, however, is the acting, the casting, some of the animation and the music. These are central elements that, in my eyes, are not executed at all well. I set myself in opposition to so many critics in saying this, but the voice actors and actresses are not cast well. There are a selection of big names and iconic voices, but, truth be told, not once do their voices come naturally out of their characters. The fault here lies in the director's hand as there has not been a successful mediation between the animation artists, the character designers and the actors. Each seem to be working separately, and this shows with the rather clunky and dissociated voice work. And whilst more could be criticised about the casting of Mowgli himself (who doesn't really do a great job) one of the biggest factors here is the degree of realism selected. Each of the animals are rendered photo-realistically - there are even some sots of the female wolf (Mowgli's mother - who is voiced horrifically and given some very bad lines) that look real. However, there is a small degree of visual personification, and we see this best with King Louie, who looks and acts just a little bit like Christopher Walken (no disrespect to Walken here). This little touch of unrealism reduces the quality of the design of certain animals rather seriously - so much so that I had to look at pictures of real tigers and panthers and assure myself that they look quite a lot cooler and terrifying than they do in this movie.

It is with better character design - preferably a full commitment to realism - and far less dialogue (maybe none) that I believe that the presented story would have such a greater impact. Moreover, with some better direction to boost the spectacle - especially in the actions scenes - I would have certainly have been won over by this. However, with the grating characterisation, the so-so CGI designs and the poor attempts at making this a musical, I have to say I found this mediocre at best. In the end, I don't understand the acclaim. Alas, God help us all; Disney are not going to stop making these remakes any time soon. Maybe there's hope. If Disney approach the re-make of The Lion King--which I believe audiences will be more cautious of considering how beloved the original is--as they have with everything else they have re-made so far, maybe people will be shocked into sense and start to reject this rather shameless bastardisation of Disney's body of animated work.

That said, am I just a grumpy old fart? Do you like any of the live-action Disney re-makes? Are you looking forward to more?

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