The Jungle Book rebooted
By SAMUEL GRAYDON
Taken by a sense of childhood nostalgia as I passed the Picturehouse in Greenwich, I went recently to see Jon Favreau’s “live-action” remake of Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book.
I slightly regretted this unusual spontaneity as I sat through half an hour of children’s adverts surrounded by couples and families. But, as the lights dimmed and I donned my 3D glasses, it hardly mattered. Even as the Disney logo disappeared behind jungle foliage, I was gripped. Not because of the fast-paced action sequence that begins the film, or even because of Ben Kingsley’s distinguished narration as Bagheera, but, to my surprise, because of the CGI animation.
Even if the film had been disappointing in all other aspects, I still would have come away impressed. The landscape simply looked real. Fantastical, but real. Had I not known beforehand that it was shot almost entirely against a green screen, I would not have believed that it wasn’t shot on location. Favreau has referred to the graphic technicians on the film as artists, and it would seem foolish to call them anything else.
And for this reason – that the world of the film is completely artificial – the best performance of what is quite the all-star cast is given by Neel Sethi (aged eleven/twelve at the time of filming), who plays Mowgli. In fact, he seemed so natural in his surroundings that he managed to supply a depth lacking from 1967 incarnation of the man-cub.
Of all Disney’s modern “live-action” remakes of their cartoon classics, The Jungle Book seems the most indebted to its predecessor. The film paid obvious homage to the original film in many ways, and in the opening and credit sequence it was almost shot-for-shot. Favreau was not afraid of bringing forth some of the darker and animalistic elements of the story, however – a process helped, of course, by the “photo-real” wolves, tiger and bear. Indeed, the film seemed torn between Kipling’s Jungle Book and Disney’s, and so attempted to meld the two; I felt that this didn't always work.
I was unsure about the inclusion of the songs, for example – they came as a surprise, and initially seemed to jar with the more violent, more serious elements. A huge King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken, erratically singing “I Wanna Be Like You”, seemed a little off-kilter with the scarred and bloodied ten year-old who was his audience. (King Louie is so big because, wanting to represent native wildlife, Disney opted not for an orang-utan but for a species of ape, Gigantopithecus, that became extinct in what is now India between 100,000 and 9 million years ago.)
But then again, this is primarily a children’s film. More than that, this is Disney, a studio which – with its wizard-mouse and pink elephants – has always had a sense of the playful and the absurd. A giant, long-dead ape who loves papaya and jazz was perhaps not as incongruous as I thought. As I ambled my way home in the dark, I found myself singing “The Bare Necessities” in my head, and I was happy to have revisited this childhood classic.