The Jungle Book

 

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Walt Disney’s second animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s tale of the man-cub and his 

animal friends is a far more ominous affair than the first.

 

 
Jungle Book, The

 
Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book of 1967 is as beloved today as it was back then. It’s unlikely that in 49 years audiences will look back as fondly on Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book of 2016. Of course, it’s an entirely different animal. Like the company’s reinvention of its Sleeping Beauty classic, Maleficent, Jon Favreau’s computer-generated imagining of Rudyard Kipling’s original is a darker, more naturalistic take. There are a couple of the old songs – ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wan'na Be Like You’ – but the rest is a more dramatic, even savage affair. Make no mistake, the film is a pictorial miracle. Seldom has the rainforest of India looked so majestic and awe-inspiring – or as threatening. In Favreau’s version, the trees are bigger, the waterfalls steeper and the animals photo-realistic.

 

Audiences may be drawn by the star names – Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louie – but the voices are secondary to the imagery. In fact, much of the dialogue is indecipherable. In the film’s quest for visual spectacle, it’s neglected the importance of the spoken word – something Kipling would have baulked at.

 

It also perpetuates the cinema’s increasing need to darken family entertainment. From the later Harry Potter films to Maleficent itself and Snow White and the Huntsman, Hollywood seems bent on chilling the bones of its young audience. But Frozen, Inside Out and Disney’s Cinderella didn’t do too badly at the box-office. Thus, it’s bizarre to see Walken’s horrifying King Louie take on the mantle of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, even to the extent of stroking his head in the shadows à la Brando. You almost expect him to mutter, “the horror…the horror.” Instead, he breaks out into ‘I Wan'na Be Like You.’

 

Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is such a hybrid: mind-boggling, terrifying, sometimes profound, but never particularly entertaining. With live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast, Mulan and The Sword in the Stone in the works, one hopes that the gift of levity will not be forgotten.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Neel Sethi (as Mowgli); with the voices of: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling, Max Favreau, Jon Favreau, Sam Raimi, Madeleine Favreau, Artie Esposito.

 

Dir Jon Favreau, Pro Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor, Screenplay Justin Marks, Ph Bill Pope, Pro Des Christopher Glass and Abhijeet Mazumder, Ed Mark Livolsi, Music John Debney, Costumes (loincloth) Laura Jean Shannon.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Fairview Entertainment-Walt Disney.

105 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 15 April 2016. Cert. PG.