Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Marks
Cinematographer: Bill Pope
by Jon Cvack
I hadn’t seen the original Disney Jungle Book since I was kid, and while it’s now boring to even discuss the pains of remakes, this one piqued my interest after reading a Reddit AMA, where Favreau said he deliberately instructed the VFX house to make the work less beautiful - something where, in an age of extravagant graphics that cram in as much detail and beauty into their every use - I was relieved. To think that this film was shot entirely on a soundstage is mind boggling, and for all those who despise CGI for its cheap, fudgy look, this film makes me both hopeful and scared. The animals in this film look incredibly lifelike and real, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Only remembering bits and pieces of the original story, I’m not sure what has been invented and what was honored from Kipling or Disney’s original versions. The boy Mowgli (Neel Seth) was by far the weakest component of the entire production, whose range seemed limited by the digital set work. I never felt like he believed anything he was saying, particularly in heavier and more dramatic moments, allowing us to see the side effects of these complete VFX productions - with no partner or environment to act within, it must be incredibly difficult to provide full conviction; especially with someone so young. Given that it was Favreau at the helm, I’m sure the boy gave a great performance during the audition, but when placed in front of countless blue screens, trying to act scared against a piece of foam that’s suppose to be a snake I’m not all that surprised.
All of the animals are incredible, with Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear and Christopher Walken as King Louie stealing the entire show. In fact, up until their involvement I was getting pretty bored, especially after Kaa’s scene (Scarlett Johanson), which teased you with possibility, only to quickly end, leaving you wanting more, or at least hoping for a return.
There’s not really much else to discuss - Christopher Walken looks like the Gigantopithecus he plays, brilliantly directed by Favreau to ensure he wasn’t just voice acting; there’s a big forest fire at the end of the scene that somehow gets put out by damming up a river; the animals look cool; there was just something missing, as it all felt vanilla and forgettable in the end. While the animals looked as real as I’ve ever seen, the chronic use of A-list celebrities always pulls you out. It leaves you seeing Johanson, Kingsley, Elba, Walken and all others. I long for the day when there wasn’t a face to attach. A person’s voice is what got them the job rather than their name. Although associated with youth and therefore probably more significant, when I reflect back on the original Jungle Book it’s had something that this didn’t have. It wasn’t about the effects and big talent, but about Kipling's incredible story.
BELOW: It's worth checking out the film for this scene alone
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