Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

Despite the familiar title this movie is actually a blend of the classic 1967 Jungle Book movie from Disney, and Rudyard Kipling's  collective works based around the adventures of Mowgli. So basically you're getting bits that you will probably recognise taken straight outta the Disney classic, and bits that have been taken from the original stories that were left out of the Disney classic. Although I will say right now that I have not seen the Disney movie since I was a kid and I have never read any of the Kipling stories sooo...I know almost zippo here. Yet...I believe most of this is generally coming from the Disney version, more so than the original stories, seemed that way.

The plot is very simple with this tale, simple and dumb. A baby Mowgli is left for dead in the Indian jungle after his father is killed by the ferocious tiger Shere Khan. Luckily Mowgli is found by a black panther named Bagheera and taken to a pack of Indian wolves to be looked after. The wolf Raksha raises Mowgli as one of her own in the depths of the jungle, Mowgli becomes a man cub. Everything is fine and dandy until one day Shere Khan decides he wants to eat Mowgli, so the wolves (and other animal friends) decide it would be best to send Mowgli back to his own people. So yeah you gotta take all this with a huge pinch of cosmic salt naturally. Firstly, the animals all have names because of course they do, secondly, they obviously talk...but some don't?? don't question it. Thirdly, the plot makes no fecking sense at all, why didn't Bagheera take Mowgli straight back to the human camp (or any humans) when he first found him? What possible good could come from giving him to a pack of wolves to be raised?? Clearly he would never fit in because he's a bloody human being, hello? Lastly, why on earth does it take many years before Shere Khan decides he wants to kill Mowgli? Did he not notice the human child being raised by the wolves? I mean, they all live in the same vicinity do they not. Yes OK its a children's fantasy, but still, no sense whatsoever (and that goes for the Disney version also).

Anyway this being a modern movie the main hook will of course be the visual effects, the visual CGI effects and how mesmerising they can be, but are they? Well they are and they aren't really, on one hand the backdrops and locations are gorgeous to look at, even of they are all fake. But if there's one thing CGI can do well its landscapes in the background and oh my this doesn't disappoint. What's even more impressive is some (or all) of these backdrops and landscapes are actually based on real locations in India (so I've read), so even though its CGI magic, its based on real mother Earth. That being said it still can't escape the dreaded greenscreen monster which always rears its ugly head against the live action Mowgli. I'm afraid I have the same complaints with the CGI creatures too. On one hand some of the animals look truly amazing, incredibly authentic...such as the elephants, Bagheera, the wolves, Shere Khan and various smaller mammals. On the other hand some animals look obviously CGI and in some cases hokey...such as Baloo the bear, the monkeys, King Louie, Kaa the snake etc...Another issue I had was the implementation of the actors features into some of the animal characters. This mainly stands out with both Baloo/Bill Murray and King Louis/Christopher Walken. Why the flip would you want either animal to have similar facial features to the voice actor?? It makes Baloo look ridiculous and King Louie look positively scary with his glaring sky blue eyes. Speaking of King Louis, my God! since when is King Kong in this story?! Jesus Christ they really fudged up on that. Changing Louis from an Orangutan to a Gigantopithecus might be more accurate for the creatures native habitat but it will scare the shit outta the kids! Plus the whole size thing is ludicrous.

Segue of sorts onto the voice work here, nope! just no!! Now don't get me wrong, most of the animal voices were fine here, mainly because I wasn't really sure who was providing the voices, and that's exactly what you want, what you need!! The casting of Bill Murray, Edris Elba and Christopher Walken was terrible! absolutely terrible! Bill Murray is literally just doing his usual Bill Murray-ish, deadpan, sarcastic ramblings which might work most of the time, but lets be clear, doesn't work all of the time and in no way fit this character. Walken was clearly given the role to give King Louie a comical, light-hearted, crime kingpin-esque twist on the character which again isn't really right (plus he's too scary for the kids). And lastly Elba voices Shere a Bengal tiger with a cockney accent, riiight. I'm sorry but these recognisable voices just didn't fit the bill for me and threw me right out of the picture every time. Naturally the two Disney songs forced in didn't help in any way either, holy schnitzel Walken's singing was atrocious. Without the background chorus from the other monkeys (in the Disney classic) the song just sounds bad, plain bad, all the oo oo oo's and so forth really sound stupid without backup vocals. But needless to say there was really no need for the songs at all, the movie is going for a more sensible approach based on the original stories, the songs were a Disney thing, the two don't really blend here. This ultimately just felt like a cheap nostalgia hook.

I also found myself questioning many many stupid points and some plot holes along the way. It is mentioned that elephants are treated almost like Gods of the jungle, that they created the jungle by creating rivers with their tusks etc...wut?? How are they so God-like exactly? oh and why do elephants apparently not speak? Come to think of it birds don't speak either. Near the start Mowgli is trying to escape from Khan, he finds himself jumping into a muddy trench which suddenly gets clobbered by a stampede of buffalo...yet he survives this by managing to grab onto a passing buffalo horn and riding to safety. Remember, this Mowgli is live action, not a cartoon. Towards the finale Shere Khan is able to beat all the wolves and Bagheera at the same time which in itself is pretty impressive, yet none of the other animals help, not even the rhinos who could surely beat Khan. As Mowgli races back from the human camp with a lit torch he accidentally manages to start a HUGE jungle fire that spreads real fast, from a single ember? At the same time as this Mowgli also manages to run all the way back to the area he grew up in (with the wolves), from the human camp which I thought was a long distance away?? I mean, the whole movies runtime is spent following Mowgli progress further and further away from his home (with the wolves), because he's supposed to be going back to the humans (supposedly some distance from where the animals dwell deep in the jungle). But then right at the end he's able to run all the way back in an instant. Oh and I might mention that both Baloo and Bagheera see where Mowgli is headed at this point in time, but are unable to catch him...and they're animals. One final point which kinda sums up the cheapness of the plot here, Baloo is seemingly bitten badly by Khan in the final fight. I say seemingly because nothing happens with it, it happens, we see it, and there are no consequences. Next scene he's all good and we're moving on. Surprising actually as I was expecting a really gooey emotional moment with that.

So in the end what does this offer over the Disney classic? Well not much frankly, visuals aside not very much at all and that's because this movie is essentially all about the visuals. They have used all sorts of new special effects jiggery-pokery for creating realistic animal animations (courtesy of Weta) which admittedly do look slick and sexy for the most part, and as said backgrounds and landscapes do also look fantastic. There are times when this does look more like an educational documentary, and I have since learned more about the jungles of India, but overall I simply can't help but think that's all this is. A glossy effects flick showcasing how good glossy effects can look with the right amount of dosh thrown at them. There was really no need to make a live action version of this tale, for me personally, it just doesn't look right, probably never will, and will always look better animated. In all honesty I can see myself saying the same thing about other future obligatory live action remakes ('The Lion King'). But yet again I find myself asking how this movie did so well, have movie standards really dropped so low? do people just accept anything average now? Sure this is a fair ride but its nothing special, in no way. A bland, simple remake with shiny effects, generally bog standard A-list voice work, glaring plot holes and touch and go with whether or not its too scary for the kids, hmmm.