Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

'Man-cub' Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a boy raised by wolves, finds himself the unwanted target of vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). For Mowgli's own protection, panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) leads him towards a human settlement but, on their journey, they encounter an assortment of animal characters.

Disney are going through a stage where they're remaking various animations of theirs as live-action films (although they also give them the TV treatment too in series like 'Once Upon a Time'). At first this seemed to be for fairy tales only (we had 'Maleficent' and 'Cinderella', with 'Beauty and the Beast' on the way), but now we have 'The Jungle Book' and I hear talk of a 'Pinocchio' (and then there's 'Pete's Dragon', if you want to count that as it had the animated dragon).

A lot of money has been put into this production (the figure I saw was $175 million, so the more expensive type of film) which, on a visual level, shows. The CGI is very good and more convincing than a lot of other films that just chuck a load of the stuff your way. A lot of the animals are very well rendered and animated (as well as voiced for a lot of them). And, for the most part, they work their sole human into quite well so that you almost believe he is there.

The reason why you never really end up falling for any of it is that the kid playing Mowgli is off-puttingly wooden, the script is clunky, and the film-making isn't that engaging. What does all that mean? Well, one of two things: firstly, that it gets quite dull quite fast and that runtime feels much longer than it actually was. However, I will be fair and say part of the disconnect would be down to audience in the packed cinema with me, which included a variety of disruptive kids all over the place ("Pick me up, pick me up!" Shut up! - I did actually want to shout that out to the whole audience).

Anyway, secondly, the film ends up being quite irritating. Some of the writing and plotting was painfully overused trite. Bill Murray as Baloo could have been good, but he is given some dire stuff to work with (which includes the 'I'm pushing you away out of [bare] necessity, but it pains me' crap). Meanwhile, the climax is the 'if you wanna get to him, you've gotta get through me' thing where everyone joins in. Other moments/inclusions that were horribly clunky were some brief inclusion about Mowgli's father in a forced flashback, stuff to do with his crafting of ropes and buckets (it's all so in-your-face and clumsy), and stuff about elephants.

Every so often, however, there will be something I could sit through or didn't mind, but the film would then do something to botch it. For example, the very brief appearance of Kaa (as voiced by Scarlett Johansson) starts out promisingly (but that was all in the teaser trailer) before fading into the sloppy flashback while the encounter with Don, um, I mean King Louie (Christopher Walken) had it's positives but then a song is thrown in for the sake of it and, by that point in the film, I was already pretty disinterested. But, thankfully, there is Shere Khan throughout the film to brighten things up so much so that I wanted the tiger to successfully complete his objective.

It's a very good looking film but that, as I've said many times before, can only take a film so far. And 'The Jungle Book' doesn't offer much substance to maintain engagement nor does it have the right pacing to cover up it's lack of depth (the opposite, actually, it finds itself too exposed far too often). Save for a few moments, it's dull, uninvolving stuff.

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