Here’s a little secret most Film Critics and Wannabe Critics like myself don’t tell many people: We actually like being proven wrong. By that I don’t mean I love it when I go watch a hyped up movie and it turns out to be a steaming pile of pretentious bullshit (ahem, BVS) but in reality, I like having my low expectations for a movie being proven wrong when the final product is actually quite enjoyable.
It should go without saying that I didn’t think much of the idea behind a CGI-laden remake of the animated Disney classic THE JUNGLE BOOK because I’m one of those guys who hates the fuck out of a movie where 90% of its cast is a fucking Video Game Character, like the entire Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS franchise and James Cameron’s AVATAR. The reason for this prejudice of mine is because as nice as the computer generated explosions and piles of pubic hair may be, I can’t emotionally invest myself in a movie where more than half the fucking effort went into making the fight scenes as fancy as possible instead of making the story and its cast a solid pair. With THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) being heavily advertised as a “realistic re-imagining” of the original with CGI in place of traditional animation, I was half expecting this movie to be void of any personality but filled to the fucking brim with corporate demands and safe action scenes that would fit perfectly in some PS4 game’s cutscene sequence. Long story short it reeked of “Unnecessary Remake Vibes” instead of the Bear Necessities.
But thank fuck I was wrong by all accounts and instead of being yet another bland as fuck orgy of CGI renders and cardboard humans like the completely justified CLASH OF THE TITANS movies, THE JUNGLE BOOK ended up being one of the more enjoyable movies early 2016 has to offer while at the same time being one hell of a love letter dedicated to the glory days of Disney.
To be honest, it took some time for me to warm up to the sight of a bunch of A-List actors voice CGI animals that acted like human beings because when it comes to talking animals, I’m used to them being drawn in a cartoony way (complete with silly clothes to boot) instead of having a real life bear walk and talk like a 500 pound con-artist. But leave it to its said cast of A-Listers to deliver a lot of life and charisma into their respective characters that made them more than just a bunch of CGI cutouts from some nature documentary: whoever did the casting here should be given a fucking award because each actor was perfect for their chosen animal. From Kaa’s reinterpretation as a reptilian seductress to Ben Kingsley’s nuanced take on the panther Bagheera, there’s a lot of new personality given to each classic character that should be seen to believed. And by the end of the day, it was easy for me to ignore the CGI and just get along with the fact that Bill Murray The Bear could climb a steep mountain.
With those ace casting choices in mind, though, it’s a waste that a good number of these characters are squandered and given maybe two or three scenes to shine in a two hour movie. While it’s understandable that these were relatively minor roles even in the original animated movie, it’s a letdown that the these guys weren’t given more time to shine and impact the narrative in a remake with even more running time than its predecessor, rendering some visually impressive bits like Kaa’s hypnosis sequence complete with the crazy eyes and potentially emotional moments with Akeela (voiced by BREAKING BAD’s Gus Fring) as Mowgli’s father figure are either too short or just flat out unnecessary . Hell, even the primary antagonist Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) only has around five scenes, two of which could’ve been cut out of the movie for pacing issues because the shittalk he does there is never even brought up again.
For most of THE JUNGLE BOOK’s first half, the movie’s content to let Mowgli talk to only one animal at a time, as if the producers couldn’t afford to put three A-Listers in the same soundstage as the main character but thankfully that shit’s fixed by the midway point when Bagheera bumps into Baloo and interrupts his bear shenanigans. Now before you call me a shithead because I spoiled the movie (which I won’t do, outside of vague references to certain events), I’d like to point out that majority of the movie was predictable. If you’ve seen enough movies and even if you’re one of those poor unfortunate souls who has yet to watch the Disney original, you’d know where the fucking plot’s going even before any of the characters their predictably cheesy bullshit but that’s not a bad thing at all. The story is indeed easy to predict and true enough, most of its emotional moments can be considered “melodramatic” but THE JUNGLE BOOK executes these cliches with such passion and care that it’s hard not to give a fuck about what’s going on in the story. Give this simple kind of story to a weaker crew of filmmakers and you’d have a boring by-the-numbers adventure where Mowgli would just lifelessly bump from one circumstance into another but here, Mowgli goes on a mythic adventure of self-discovery through a jungle that’s more supernatural than anything.
On that note, if you thought that this take on THE JUNGLE BOOK would just be another whimsical adventure through a bunch of leaves and trees, you’re dead fucking wrong because the jungle here is a fucking beast. Seriously, this is a jungle filled with both wonders and terrors, and the movie takes way too much pleasure in emphasizing that this piece of nature will fucking eat you alive. Rather than just set the movie in any random place with a shitload of trees and vines, THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) chooses to add a lot of dark elements that add a strange yet impressive mystical feeling to the place, from the re-purposed presence of the wandering elephants to the way the animals talk about Man’s mysterious and foreboding presence. Doing so surprisingly helped make the movie more mature and accessible for those in the audience who couldn’t handle the idea of singing animals that sound drunk as fuck (which is something that happened twice here), and this added layer of depth was something this particular cynic loved the hell out of.
It may have been corny at some points and the sudden song numbers were jarring as fuck especially thanks to Christopher Walken’s musical slam poetry number but THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) is a good showcase of well used CGI and a great example of how a re-imagining should be done. I’m still no convert to the religion of full-blown CGI movies but this particular movie is not only a great exception to the rule but an example other aspiring CGI loving filmmakers and great visual storytellers should follow.
If you’re going to have a CGI fueled darker and more mature re-imagined version of a familiar story starring a set of established characters, it’s best to let the movie talk for itself instead of hammering the audience with repetitive knock-off Nietzsche jargon about how stupid humanity is. Do that dark shit it in the way THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) did it with a heartfelt message about self-acceptance and maturity through experience, not like what BVS: DAWN OF JUSTICE did where its supposedly mature themes were summarized by a jar of piss and mommy issues.
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