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?