For Reel

The Jungle Book (2016)
May 1, 2016, 11:34 am
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Director: Jon Favreau
3.5 Stars
The Jungle BookMaintaining the episodic structure of the 1967 musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved stories, Jon Favraeu’s The Jungle Book pieces together a handful of finely accomplished setpieces, rendered with impressive animated imagery and a wealth of talent in the voice cast. Purists will have a hard time arguing about the way the story progresses—there are a few differences here and there that change the tone of some of the character relationships (Baloo has a history as an opportunist), but by and large it is a faithful adaptation of the Disney version with updates that feel more like reimaginings than reinventions (after Tim Burton’s catastrophic Alice in Wonderland, it is a relief to see the charm of the story left intact). The best of these reinventions is a show-stopping sequence involving King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken), now imagined as a mammoth in size and having the inflection of a mob boss. His crooning of “I Wanna Be Like You” doesn’t have the fun-loving tone of the dixieland version, but instead comes off as mildly threatening. The way that Favreau stages the interaction with Louie shrouded entirely in darkness (Mowgli (Neel Sethi) stands in the sole source of light) is the sort of minimalist encounter that the film plays very well, whereas the disappointing climax is a step back into CGI creatures howling and clawing at each other amongst a grim, vaguely apocalyptic backdrop. Whereas the 1967 version imagined Mowgli largely as a witness to the world around him, Favreau imagines him as a Christ-figure of the jungle—it is not merely a problem of the material’s colonialist implications, but the most exhausted of hero journeys. Regardless, the film is made with love and the sort of warmth that many CGI-heavy fantasy spectacles lack.

The Jungle Book (1942)
March 25, 2011, 5:49 am
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Director: Zoltan Korda

Twenty-five years prior to Disney’s animated musical based on the classic Rudyard Kipling novel, Sabu starred in the Korda brothers’ live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. The picture is an imaginative joy, even if the narrative takes a backseat to all of the technical marvels. With innumerable exotic beasts and the hidden treasures of a colossal lost city, as a spectacle the film is somewhat akin to the Alexander Korda produced remake of The Thief of Bagdad. It is clear that much of the appeal was simply in seeing the film’s creatures in technicolor – the first fifteen minutes or so of the picture might as well be a nature documentary – but the jungle itself continues to impress with its convincingly detailed terrain. Sabu’s Mowgli is a charismatic hero with an affable blend of naivety and resourcefulness, and as the human villain and narrator Joseph Calleia is an intimidating but ultimately cowardly foe. Enjoyable as escapist fare, The Jungle Book is not quite as enchanting as The Thief of Bagdad, but nonetheless it is impressive due to its lavish production achievements.