Review: The Jungle Book

Like all of the most recent Disney films, I was very skeptical about this new live-action reboot of The Jungle Book. Their somewhat recent stream of live-action remakes have proven, in this critic’s eyes, to be sub-par at best. I know that the Cinderella remake generated a good deal of positive feedback, but I have remained unimpressed. Maybe this is because of my Disney bias, or maybe it’s because I sometimes seem like the only person on this earth that is immune to Disney’s brainwashing propaganda. I’ll let you decide.

Prior to its release and shortly thereafter, The Jungle Book received a HUGE amount of positive feedback. I was surprised to see it’s score on Rotten Tomatoes slowly trickle down down from 100% and waiver around the 95% mark (as I write this, it sits at 94%). Even some of my favorite film critics were giving high praise and encouraging their followers to go see this film in theaters. While I remained somewhat skeptical (as always), I was convinced that The Jungle Book was going to be a surprisingly good film.

Well, let me say, dear friends, that my cynical and skeptical mind has risen above the masses of weak-minded and easy-to-please once again. I was NOT happy I had gone to see this movie in theaters and was definitely NOT happy that Disney had once again tricked me into paying for one of their shitty remakes by brainwashing those that I look up to.

 

Story: 3/10

Last Sunday, the premiere for season 6 of Game of Thrones (probably my favorite currently running TV show) aired. After watching it, I was concerned with where the writing was going this season, since they no longer have any well written book tailcoats to hang off of.

I was extremely relieved after going to see The Jungle Book, however, because it reminded me of what true atrocious writing really looks like.

Note: my score for this section is what will set me apart from other critics, as this has seemingly been an extremely unpopular opinion. So take it with a grain of salt. It also means this section is going to be longer than usual, in order for me to better explain why I think it deserves a 3/10.

Let’s start with the obvious: the pacing of this film is terrible. The film’s opening scene shows Mowgli (Neel Sethi) running through the jungle for no apparent reason, and that’s pretty much how it continues for the entirety of the 1 hour and 46 minute run-time. The pacing is way too quick for the majority of the film. It seems to never settle down or stop to really look at why things are happening, they just are, and it expects you to tag along without asking questions. This is a HUGE pet-peeve of mine. How can you expect me to immerse myself in your world when you haven’t even stopped to tell me what your world is? [See X-Factor for more info]

The pacing of the film also lends itself to poor character development. I felt that there were only two interesting characters in the entire film: Baloo (Bill Murray) and Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Everyone else, especially Mowgli, is simply along for the ride that this crazy plot takes them on. Because of the atrocious character development, I was, once again, not able to immerse myself in the movie. I can’t sympathize with Mowgli when whats-his-name dies, and I can’t feel sorry for Baloo when he has to push Mowgli away.

In fact, for the majority of the film, I couldn’t help but think about how the “bad guy,” Shere Khan, was right the whole time! Mowgli doesn’t belong in the jungle. He’s much more clever than the rest of the animals, and he will, indeed, rise to the top of the food chain if he’s allowed to live in the jungle among the other animals. Not only is it where he belongs in the first place, the human village is where he would have been the safest. But no, for some stupid reason that’s never really explained, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) decides he’s going to take care of him instead of simply making sure he makes it back to the village safely. Oh, and let’s not forget that when Shere Khan is proven right [Possible Spoiler] and Mowgli burns down the entire friggin jungle, that all the animals ignore him and basically say, “yeah, well you’re the real evil guy, so screw you!” [End Spoiler]. Sure, he might have been a little extreme by wanting to kill him for most of the film, but he was still right in the end.

Speaking of the end, they totally changed the ending of the original film. Why? I have no clue. It made no sense to me. Mowgli never goes to live with his own kind, which is what I thought the entire point of the original movie was: that people are naturally drawn to those that are like them because it helps them thrive, be happy, and feel a sense of purpose and belonging. But apparently, the point of this movie was that… um… hang on, I go this… “fire bad”??? Seriously though, I think they were going the “environmentalist” route, but weren’t really invested in it all that much. The result was all the animals being content and living with a potential serial-arsonist now that the “real bad guy” was dead.

Last thing in this section, I promise. Let’s talk about homages. If you’re remaking a film, it’s important to make the film your own, but it’s also important to pay respect to the original. How does one do this? Well, The Jungle Book gives us a perfect example of how NOT to do this. One of the things about the original animated film that has proven to stand the test of time are the songs. This wasn’t supposed to be a musical, but I was fine with the way “Bear Necessities” was tied into the script. It was literally a song that Baloo teaches Mowgli and that they sing together when they’re just having a good time. BUT, to have King Louie (played by Christopher Walken, who you know will not be able to sing for crap) suddenly break out into a musical number while talking to Mowgli was absolutely disgusting. It was totally out of place and very ridiculous. In a musical, it’s supposed to be natural for a character to replace a speech with a song. But this is literally the only time this happens in the movie, which means it’s not a musical, and  it also means King Louie had been writing and choreographing this song long before he ever met Mowgli, which is just stupid.

 

Acting: 6/10

Okay, so this was Neel Sethi’s first film and he’s very young. And it’s also not his fault or fair that he was the only physical actor in a film full of voice acting and CG animals. But guys… he was not good. I’m talkin on the verge of repeating Jake Loyd in The Phantom Menace level bad. I half expected him to yell out, “now this, is jungle racing!” while running alongside his little wolf buddies.

Like I mentioned earlier, Bill Murray and Idris Elba are the only two that really stood out to me in this film. They felt like real characters while the rest of the cast seemed to be emotionless plot devices. Sure; Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, and Scarlett Johansson have great voices, but they suffered from a poorly written script.

 

Visuals: 9/10

This was the one redeeming quality of this film. And, if I’m being honest, the reason this film was made in the first place. Much like The Revenant, I felt as though the true purpose of this film was for Disney to show off their fancy new CG technology and give us some great motion capture animals. And yes, they were great, albeit a little inconsistent since you could tell that a lot more detail was put into primary characters compared to side characters.

I also took off a little for Jon Favreau’s excessive use of quick zooms and fast pans during action sequences. Usually, these techniques look okay for live action sequences, but they still come off as kind of unprofessional. However, in this film, when you’re literally filming a green screen room with imaginary creatures running around it, you can only imagine how ridiculous that camera man must have felt while having to pan and quick zoom on a dude in a body suite holding what was probably a puppet.

 

Music: 7.5/10

The music wasn’t bad, but I am going to take off some more in this category for how the song was implemented. The score itself was pretty decent, but it didn’t blow me away.

 

X-Factor: 1/10, Disney can’t “Real”

What’s the purpose of making a live-action remake of an originally animated film? Well, I have two answers to this question:

1) to make the film more realistic and down-to-earth by putting in a more “real” story and more “real” characters. While they weren’t that great, Snow White and the Huntsman and Cinderella were good examples of this. They took two fairy-tale-like stories and put them in a more realistic situation. Now, I think it’s important for me to explain what “realistic” means. Realistic does not mean, “able to occur in real life.” It means, “able to occur in an established reality.” So, in following this definition, that would make stories like The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek “realistic.” Because, unless you literally have no imagination, there’s really nothing that happens in those movies that you should think of as being ridiculous or unnatural within the context of their given worlds.

2) it’s a soulless cash-grab that targets the easily-pleased and mindless masses that seem to flock to every new Disney film…

Okay, so now that we’ve answered that question, let me explain why The Jungle Book is not option number 1. I will then leave it up to you to use your deductive reasoning in order to determine which option it is.

The world that The Jungle Book takes place in is not at all established. I have no idea what to expect from this world. Here’s what I did learn about the world from the movie:

  • Mowgli has the ability to speak to most animals, but there are some animals that cannot speak at all, even to other animals. The animals that cannot speak seem to be the ones that come in large numbers. Ergo, the jungle is ruled by the top 1% of animals that posses the ability to communicate with each other while they use the masses to their own advantage.
  • The Jungle itself seems to make up the entire world and only contains one small human village. It also has a very odd composition of fauna, as it contains exotic wildlife from the Alaskan Frontier, the Sahara Dessert, the Amazon, and the jungles of South Asia. So please, stop telling me this story is supposed to take place in India, because there really is nothing to back this claim.
  • The animals in the jungle have a sophisticated set of laws that seem to be loosely based on how different mafia families are expected to interact with each other (which is probably not a good system of government). And, despite their knack for social construction and creation of law, they all possess an unfounded phobia of innovation and technology, despite constantly seeing the fruits of its labor.
  • Also, the carnivorous animals are apparently able to go weeks without eating meat because they have a rule about no hunting while the river is dry and the “peace rock” is visible. Oh, and since the elephants redirect the river at the end of the film so that the “peace rock” is always visible, I guess the carnivores are supposed to go vegan from now on.
  • There are only three female animals in the jungle: a she-wolf that most be the mother to all the wolves, a random teenage rhino, and a snake that lives on its own deep in the jungle (but may have been killed by Baloo?).
  • Elephants are basically reclusive gods.

Based on this information, what do you expect to realistically happen within the confines of this world? If you answered, “I have no idea,” then you’re on the right track. If you answered, “I know: A, B, and even C could happen,” then I cordially invite you to pull your head out of your ass, take a step back, and really think about your motivations for defending this movie.

 

Overall: 5.3/10

The Jungle Book lost it’s visual magic for me about half way into the film. That’s when I realized I no longer cared about the movie. I saw it in theaters, and it definitely had the “Avatar Effect” of keeping me interested because of the visuals until I stepped back and took a wider look at the film. The reasons for the high praise and overwhelmingly positive reviews are lost on me. If it’s nostalgia, then I can understand, because I think I probably saw the original animated film only once when I was very young.

If you trust my reviews, then I would say that this film is not worth seeing in theaters unless you have children that desperately want to see it (cuz, ya know, it has talking animals. Kids like that kinda stuff… I think). However, if you think I’m often too harsh on movies and don’t want me to destroy your hopes for this childhood gem of yours; then please, I encourage you to go purchase a ticket and give the company that will eventually own your mind more of your money. Cuz in the end, they’re going to own that too…

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