Like many who had seen the original The Jungle Book (1967) as a kid who heard the news that one of the crown jewels in Walt Disney’s Studio’s back catalogue was being remade I sighed and wanted nothing to do with it, One of those classics that you know deep down shouldn’t be touched. Another symptom of Hollywood going back to the well of success, afraid to make something new, be brave and actually be original for a change. However a few weeks ago, yes the trailer won me over, the combination of a single actor in this CGI jungle, which allows for a more expansive film than being on location that really does work in this retelling of the Rudyard Kipling classic.
Disney can really do no wrong (most of the time) with the acquisition of both Lucasfilm and Marvel they are not to be messed with and know what they are doing when it comes to their properties. Gone are the days of the straight to video nonsense that lead to spoofs such as Jafar May Need Glass’s which was under the old leadership before John Lasseter and Robert Iger who has seen the company come back into good fortune.
Moving away from the politics of the studio to the classic animated film and the remake The Jungle Book (2016) which is more an expansion and reinterpretation of the source material. Having never read the book like most of us who grew up with the film we have only the animated film to go on. No other versions have been made, just showing how strongly Disney hold onto the copyright. The first notable difference is that there is only one actor on-screen, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who has to do one of the hardest things on-screen acting with very little, instead relying on his imagination, acting ability and whatever direction and visuals he’s given before all the magic really happens. But you soon forget he’s only one there against all the photo-realistic animals that remind me more of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) where the actors did voice overs for the dogs throughout the film. I have to admit that was one of my concerns as to whether the voices would be synchronised with the animation, which thankfully it was (more or less) you can forgive it for being slightly off. You are believing the characters exist in this CGI jungle along with the actors. There are times you believe that Sethi is actually swinging through the trees. I was won over on that score.
Another major difference was the absence of all but two of the songs, keeping two of the more popular ones which are worked in rather nicely. The Bare Necessities is worked in to be a natural part of the film instead of cutting from the action to have the musical number. Working it into the natural dialogue not as a diversion.
The original songs reworked in among the rest of the film which feels fresher, not relying on the classic, instead making the most of the feel of the film which was both fun to. With Bill Murray perfectly cast in the role of Baloo who takes advantage of his new friend, very much in Murray’s characters, all in jest of course, becoming good friends. Whilst the other song I Wanna be Like You which has developed racial undertones in more recent years takes on a darker tone when sung by Christopher Walken as King Louie the now oversized orangutans. It’s a more foreboding song, gone is the light jazz classic, replaced by a sinister deal maker. I’ll always stand by the original being a product of a its time and should be seen in that light.
Walken’s King Louie is not on-screen for long enough but leaves his mark on a film that moves at a steady pace. For those who grew up with the original you are constantly checking to see what is still there and how its been worked in, even just for reasons of nostalgia that is pulling in a lot of the audience at the moment. For the most part the lighter tone of the film is gone, instead replaced with the idea of being yourself and not being afraid of what you can offer society or even your friends. A strong theme for children to come away with as Mowgli’s prevented from developing his human potential in the jungle instead taught to live and think like the wolves who have brought him up.
If anything this retelling of the classic tale has encouraged me to take a look at last years Cinderella to see how the new one compares with the original 1951 animation. Am I softening to all these remakes of classic films? I’m not sure this is only one that has won me over. This is retelling of the original that draws on the original film version, its aware of the past and combines it playfully with a carefully chosen voice cast that matches the original characters. A part of me wanted Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Shere Khan instead of Idris Elba who I grew to like behind the menacing tiger, I guess I’m too attached to the original and George Sanders. I wonder no whats next in line for a remake from the house of mouse?
Sad news in the last day of the Walt Disney Studio‘s once again closing the door on 2D/hand drawn animation, which is ultimately in favor of 3D/C.G.I animation that has had a more successful run in the last twenty years with the studio and all of its affiliate companies, most notably Pixar that spearheaded the way with their breakthrough film Toy Story (1995) that came at a time when already the renaissance of the Disney Studio animation was starting to decline during the mid 1990’s.
Chief executive Bob Iger who has been with the company for at least 15 years has just announced at a shareholders meeting that no more 2D animation productions (apart from television which are always successful) are in the works.
“To my knowledge we’re not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now, there is a fair amount of activity going on in hand-drawn animation but it’s largely for television at this point. We’re not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn’t any in development at the company at the moment.”
This doesn’t mean in the future they’re wont be any 2D animation in the future, just the immediate future. The traditional method was last brought to a halt after the poor response to Home on the Range (2004) which did poorly at the box office. Marking a five-year silence in output from the studio. Causing a lot of skillful animators to lose their jobs too. Thankfully when Disney finally acquired Pixar in 2005 change was slowly coming about when they made John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer at the studio, 2D animation eventually returned with The Princess and the Frog (2009) which did far better at the box office, just not as the studio wanted (as we are informed). It was also a return to the tried and tested Princess forumla that has been a sure winner with audiences since the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). A few years later the studio released an updated take on another successful franchise Winnie the Pooh (2011) which grossed far less than the previous film they released in 2D.
Going briefly back to the mid eighties when C.G.I. was in its infancy and was being tested by the studio, appearing in small scenes of their films, such as The Great Mouse Detective (1986), 2D animation was again being threatened by technology. Thankfully with the release of The Little Mermaid (1989) all that changed for the next through years. Now they are faced with the same decisions.
I think a few issues here. The studio wants a far bigger profit than they are making, whilst they continue to release 3D animation, they can afford to make these more traditional pieces. Whilst the more modern medium continues to thrive, engaging with new audiences. They need to have strong material, not keep returning to Winnie the Pooh which they have proved to be very successful at over the years since the first film was released in 1977. The tried and tested Princess formula has never failed them, which they turned to a tongue-in-cheek way with Enchanted (2007), a modern take for such respected company that is rooted in family values and entertainment. Take a look at Tangled (2010) which revitalized the genre.
The method is a well-respected form of animation, that should be maintained, even for special pieces of work. Of course the art form is by no means dying, with heaps of animated T.V. programs, its thriving today.
In time the traditional method will return once more return, maybe for a short time, one or two features that need to be chosen carefully. I have sadly noticed that now that even Mickey Mouse has been transformed into a 3D character. Of course you can’t stop progress, Disney has always been at the forefront of that, investing in new technology to enhance the viewing experience. There will always be a place in the house of mouse for the hand drawn, when however I don’t know. C.G.I. is becoming cheaper, quicker to use and more profitable, it’s no longer a gimmick, it allows for greater story telling (which could be argued for 2D quite easily too), creating new world. It’s about what the medium can offer the story more than anything, if the material at the moment pushes towards C.G.I. so be it, if it;s simpler then 2D maybe the medium to choose. The tools just are needed at the moment, which is very sad, once again animators who dream of working at the Burbank studio’s have to wait just a bit longer.
- Disney turns away from hand-drawn animation (guardian.co.uk)
- Walt Disney Company Currently Not Developing Any Hand-Drawn Animated Features (slashfilm.com)
- Disney Currently Has No Plans to Develop Hand-Drawn Animated Features (collider.com)
- Disney Ditches Hand-Drawn Animation (laughingsquid.com)
- Disney Kills 2D Animation (geek-news.mtv.com)
- Animation Company, Duncan Studio, Ventures into New Markets (prweb.com)
- Disney has no plans to make hand-drawn animated films (digitalspy.co.uk)
- How Disney’s ‘Paperman’ turned old school animation into Oscar gold (theverge.com)
- Disney’s Paperman (kurojabber.com)