“The Jungle Book” Directed by Jon Favreau

By on April 20, 2016

Dan Walker on Film

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DAN WALKER ON FILM

 

 

 

Director:

John Favreau (“Elf”, “Iron Man”, “Chef” and he wrote “Swingers”)

Main Cast:

Bill Murray (“Ghostbusters”, “Lost in Translation”, “Broken Flowers”)

Ben Kingsley (“Schindler’s List”, “Hugo”, Best Actor Oscar for “Ghandi”)

Idris Elba (“American Gangster”, “Prometheus”, “Beasts of No Nation”)

Christopher Walken (“Annie Hall”, Best Supporting Oscar for “The Deer Hunter” ­ probably more famous for “more cowbell!” and how many people do impressions of him than he is for his actual acting.)

Running Time:  108 Minutes

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Jungle bookI saw “The Jungle Book” on opening day because I like the voice cast and because of its high Rotten Tomatoes rating.  I have a respectable collection of classic Disney animated feature films and, despite not being as lavish and well-animated as its pre-1960′s predecessors, the original 1967 animated version, of which this current film is a remake, is among my favorites.

The familiar story is adapted from the first six chapters of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of stories of the same name.  It centers around Mowgli (New York City-born Neel Sethi), a boy raised by wolves in the jungles of India.  To keep peace in the jungle and keep Mowgli (in his early teens when the story is set) from getting killed by Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger (Idris Elba), the wolves agree to let black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) accompany Mowgli as he returns to a human village.  shere khan 1967In the 1967 version, Shere Khan’s (right) only motivation to kill Mowgli is to eat him.  In this version, Shere Khan previously loses an eye and has his face severely burned when Mowgli’s father torch’s Shere Khan while defending himself and toddler son Mowgli years earlier.  The father didn’t survive, which is how the wolves came upon Mowgli.  As a result, a vengeful Shere Khan implements a policy that no man can be trusted or part of the jungle community.

 

baloo mowgli bagheerabaloo mowgli

Along the way, Mowgli meets Baloo the carefree sloth bear (Bill Murray), who becomes another friend and protector.  Mowgli also encounters adversaries Kaa, the python (Scarlett Johansson), who wants to eat him, and King Louie (Christopher Walken) — and his loyal empire of various primates — who wants fire, which the jungle animals refer to as “the red flower” and which he believes will make him all-powerful and the equal of man.

shere khan 2016It feels repetitive to say this whenever I review a big-budget CGI-heavy feature film but the visuals are impressive as well as pleasing, given their nature backdrop.  When Shere Khan makes his first appearance, you get the feeling the visual effects people (several hundred people are credited) studied Richard Parker in Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” and made him more imposing.

Any fan of the 1967 original animated version can only contrast and compare the voice casts of the two films, which may not be fair because the characters in the 1967 version are given more personality and the film is more vibrant, musical and comical.  kaa 1967
kaa 2016For me, Elba stands out, but he has the best character, as movie villains tend to be, and he may well be the equal of George Sanders, the original, more resonant and calculating and less brutal Shere Khan.  Everyone in this version did a great job, especially Murray, but I still give the edge to original cast Phil Harris (Baloo), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera), Sterling Holloway (Kaa) and Louis Prima (King Louie).  There’s no screen credit given to the mother wolf in the original.  In the second movie I review in a row, we don’t see Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o but instead only hear her voice, as Mowgli’s adopted mother.  While Sethi does a decent job in the lead role, I’ll take bets this will be the most significant film in his acting career.

dumbo crowsSOTS rabbit remusLike the crows in Disney’s “Dumbo” and the black characters and all the animated characters in “Song of the South”*, Louis Prima’s portrayal of King Louie (who was not in the original book) has always been perceived as racist.  Prima’s (an Italian-American) version is an exaggerated version of the character’s obvious inspiration, Louis Armstrong, whose entertainment persona was already a caricature.

louie 1967louis 2016Considered even more racist was Louie’s goal, underscored by the song “I Wanna Be Like You”, which paralleled the belief that African-Americans, whose own culture had been taken from them when they were abducted to become slaves in this country, wanted to take on the characteristics of white people.  I’m sure the film makers went out of their way to ensure Walken’s version was not similarly offensive.

mufasaskaI likely missed other references to Disney movies, but there were at least two references to Disney’s 1994 “The Lion King.”   One was the ravine water buffalo stampede, which was similar to the wildebeest stampede that killed Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and (SPOILER ALERT) the way Shere Khan met his demise by falling backward from a high altitude into a big fire was a combination of how Mufasa fell into the wildebeest stampede and how Skar (Jeremy Irons) was enveloped by fire.  The climactic scene set at a high altitude is a device we’re getting used to seeing in CGI action films and having someone close to the lead character get killed early on is something we’ve seen repeatedly in Disney films.

The end credits, where all the characters reappear, mostly ignoring scale, are as entertaining as any part of the movie and a great note to end the film on.

I can see why reviews and audience reaction have been so positive for “The Jungle Book.”  While it was enjoyable enough to sit through, it really didn’t add much value for me.  Still, it’s a entertaining film going experience for families, whether the children have seen the original version or not, although some scenes might be excessively violent for younger kids.

While director Favreau continues to add big-grossing effects-driven successes to his resume, I’d like to see him do more movies where the emphasis is less on special effects and more on story and acting, like his 2014 “Chef”, but something meatier.

 

DPW

April 20, 2016

 

song-of-the-south-poster*  Because of its racist portrayals, “Song of the South” has not been released in its entirety on DVD in the U.S. by Disney, which is unfortunate because the animation and the way it’s merged with live-action are outstanding.  In 2010, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company will never produce the movie on DVD.  You can still find very good DVD copies online, but they are not produced by Disney.  Similarly banned cartoon shorts that mark the period and are, racism aside, otherwise enjoyable are Walter Lantz’s 1941 “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and Bob Clampett’s 1943 “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.”  Check ‘em out:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx4wr2_boogie-woogie-bugle-boy-of-company-b-1941-walter-lantz-productions_shortfilms

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNVEeYUxyfs

Despite their drawbacks, all three films are worth watching because they all mark the time of their release.

I was hoping to watch and review John Carney’s “Sing Street” or Jeremy Salnier’s “The Green Room.”  I like Carney’s “Once” and “Begin Again” a lot and, while I’m not a big horror fan, thought it would be fun to see Patrick Stewart as an antagonist in a scary thriller.  Both have high Rotten Tomatoes ratings but they only opened in major cities last Friday.

mowgli's brothersrikki-tikki-taviwhite seal

In the 1970′s, Chuck Jones ˗ who directed the 1966 holiday classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and created Warner Brothers characters Pepe Le Pew, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote ˗ produced and directed made-for-TV adaptations of “The Jungle Book” chapters “Mowgli’s Brothers” (no comedy or singing), the Orson Welles-narrated “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and the Roddy McDowell-narrated “The White Seal.”  While none of them are on a par with his own “Grinch”, his numerous brilliant Warner Brothers shorts or any Disney feature, they make for a good introduction to Kipling for kids.  All can be found on the “Chuck Jones Collection” DVD, which also includes his adaptation of George Selden’s “A Cricket in Times Square” and two holiday specials featuring the “Cricket” characters.

In mentioning references to “The Lion King”, I have a good Hollywood anecdote:

HyenasI worked next to director Kevin Lima (Disney’s “Tarzan” and “Enchanted”) for a while when I was in Burbank, while he was doing pre-production for “102 Dalmations.”   His assistant was an aspiring animation director named Dave.  When we introduced ourselves, Dave said he was an animator and had worked on “The Lion King.”  I told him, “I know it’s (at the time) Disney’s all-time top grossing movie and everyone loves it, but I really disliked that movie.  I just didn’t see what everyone else saw.”  He lit up and responded, “FINALLY, someone with good taste!  Everyone who worked on it hated every minute and it was like pulling teeth for all of us.  We were all so relieved when we were done and surprised it became such a big success.”

I also thought the Elton John-Tim Rice music was paled in comparison to the Alan Mencken-Howard Ashman collaborations, “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.”  Tim Rice contributed lyrics to “Aladdin” after Ashman’s death.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

3 comments on ““The Jungle Book” Directed by Jon Favreau

  1. What was particularly rewarding for me in this review was how you introduced history into your comparisons. It reminded me of the verbal reviews of films on Turner Classic movies by Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. Louis Prima is a name I have not heard in a while since the film “Big Night”. My parents owned a few Louis Prima and Keely Smith albums when I was growing up so your review also made me feel a little nostalgic.

    • Dan Walker on said:

      I could have easily gone onto a Louis Prima tangent in my review. If he had done nothing else, he made his mark by writing the signature Benny Goodman hit, “Sing Sing Sing”, which was used to perfect effect during the hell scene of Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry.” Like you say, the entire premise of the wonderful Campbell Scott/Stanley Tucchi-directed “Big Night” was predicated on Prima’s appearance, which never happened. His medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Aint’ Got Nobody” was covered by David Lee Roth in the 80′s. An energetic trumpet player, vocalist and entertainer, he really did put a lot into his King Louie voice work in “The Jungle Book.”

      Glad I could stir up those memories for you, buddy. If you inherited your parents’ records, you must have an amazing collection.

  2. Jeremy on said:

    Another excellent review. Keep them coming!

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