Monday, October 31, 2016

OVP: The Jungle Book (2016)

Film: The Jungle Book (2016)
Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken
Director: Jon Favreau
Oscar History: 1 nomination/1 win (Best Visual Effects*)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

Disney is not shy in recent years about restarting its animated properties and bringing them to life as real-life movies, having us rediscover our beloved childhood classics (and yet they can continue to reinvest in stuffed animals and toys from the animated films that are now popular).  All-in-all, it's a lucrative racket, one that, if you're a parent, you've probably already been suckered into at this point.  That doesn't, however, mean that the end product is any good.  Indeed, one of the things I've noticed with these live-action Disney films is that they are deeply hit-or-miss.  They all look good initially (OMG-how do you think they'll handle X's happening!), but at the end of the day you can't just rely upon a classic story to carry you across the finish line.

(Really-you need a Spoiler Alert on The Jungle Book?) That's what happens in this adaptation of Kipling's classic tales.  The story of Mowgli, the young boy raised by wolves, has been seen by almost all of you (with $1 billion box office, I was clearly behind the curve here), but it felt pretty played out even early on in the film.  It hurts that Kipling's least interesting character is, in fact, the chief protagonist in the film-Mowgli is not interesting, and utterly predictable (gee, I'm going to haphazardly go off into the jungle and hope that Bagheera will save me when I inevitably get caught doing the thing he specifically told me not to do), and Neel Seethi doesn't really add anything exciting or revolutionary to the character.  As a result, we're already saddled with one of the duller protagonists in the Disney canon.

Of course, the point of The Jungle Book is the side characters, but even here we're stuck by some people I wasn't wild about, to be honest.  Some of the casting choices felt uninspired-let's just get this out there, this is a boring movie.  I found it dull.  I think if you'd put the characters of Bagheera, Baloo, and King Louie in front of me and told me to cast them in the most generic way possible, I'd have gone with Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, and Christopher Walken.  They're all men who have put in terrific performances before and have created iconic movie moments, but if you give them a chance to coast because it's a "kid's movie," they'll take it, and they rely almost entirely upon the earlier Disney film, rarely adding much to the live-action aspect of the film.  Idris Elba is better, though the only person that I think is truly adding something special to this film is Scarlett Johansson, who makes Kaa sexy and dangerous, going in a different direction from the animated feature and it pays off-the Kaa scene is easily the best of the movie.

The film will surely be nominated for its special effects, but even here I quibble.  You may say "it's better on the big screen" but everything's better on a big screen, and I thought that the lighting in the film was so poorly done (the cinematography was difficult to focus upon, as the shadows were unnatural), that it took away from the special effects.  Yes, I'm not blind so there are moments of wow (King Louie in particular stands out to me), but watching essentially an animated movie, it frequently felt odd compared to the rest of the picture-you could tell you were watching a visual effect, which is never the point, and then I felt somewhat cheated because all of that green-screen started to grate after a while, taking away the few special moments that came out of the picture.

So all-in-all, I was not impressed here-I wanted to like it (the reviews were solid, and with that box office I wouldn't totally discount a sequel), but I didn't.  This is a dud, and our classic film moments deserve to be better reimagined than this.  Hopefully Beauty and the Beast can find a way to overcome these obstacles next year.  In the meantime, agree or disagree in the comments-don't pretend you haven't seen this yet.

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