Preview: Disney’s The Jungle Book

Disney’s The Jungle Book

Directed by Jon Favreau
In UK Cinemas April 15th, 2016

by Haresh Patel

As Disney’s schedule to re-do all of its back catalogue in live action – or at least Three Dee action – rolls on, the next installment is The Jungle Book.

The 1957 classic has embedded itself into the hearts and childhoods of several generations, and the characters are untouchable and loved for the goofy playful humour of Baloo, stylish evilness of Shere Khan and Kaa, and the just out there funk of King Louie. Almost everyone who watched it as a child has been smitten with the songs, the characters, and the story of surrogate family.

Jon Favreau, much lauded director of big budget splatfests, is an interesting choice for this remake. His long career started in acting and comedy, to lowish budget comedies like Swingers, Something’s Gotta Give, and The Big Empty, as well as spots on TV classics Seinfeld, My Name Is Earl and Family Guy. He flicked between directing much loved films like Elf, Iron Man and the Us version of The Office. As he’s developed as a director, he’s grown more and more confident in using technical wizardry in his films, to it’s logical conclusion: an almost completely CGI film.

Comparisons will inevitably follow with Life of Pi, King Kong, and Avatar, and that has something to do with the fact that many of the same technical team are on this one. But this comparison would do a disservice to what they have been tinkering away with in the dark, in order to come up with The Jungle Book.

I got to see a few scenes presented by Favreau and his team at MPC in London, and the scenes and test footage we saw were mind-blowing. Rather than aiming for a world-building experience like Avatar – which at its heart you could do anything colourful and it’d be fine cos you know, outer space – the team have taken great pains to go for a largely photo-real look to the world of The Jungle Book.  Every blade of grass, leaf, and matted fur of each animal is based in the real world. Even the way the animals talk has been thoughtfully considerate to animal anatomy. And the mind bending thing to take in is that it’s all been hand animated. Just like the old days with an army of artists painstakingly drawing each foot, growl, mouth move and jump by hand, so as in here, a massive army of digital artists have hand moved each inflection, step and twitch by hand. Not only that, but each blade of grass, rock, and water ripple has been overseen by a bunker full of computer geeks to create a stunning version of India, as per the story. Beautifully subtle tweaks of realism take place to hark back to both the original 1957 version and also to enhance the light and dark characters and the scenes. Technical fans will certainly get a lot of mileage when it comes out on disk.

Speaking of which, the few scenes we were shown don’t seem to be second fiddle to story and acting.  Although the version is a Disney film and naturally has to retain some of the Disney legacy, Favreau has taken some big steps to re-incorporate the original concepts from Rudyard Kipling’s book. Kipling’s book was itself an allegory and statement on social mores of the time, and this film revives some of the animal mythology in its rendering. The voice acting is superb and varied, and star-studded. There’s certainly a multinational set of accents to the jungle’s inhabitants, which may or may not work. The lead role of Mowgli is a curious find, apparently the 2000th kid to be auditioned, and after all that, found in Manhattan. He has a simultaneously perfect and odd casting choice to him.

Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book has definitely got an eye on the new-to-a-home-theatre-near-you 4K media market. As Avatar was the perfect vehicle to show off the wonder of HDDVD and Blu-Ray, so this film would be a great poster film for the upcoming eyeball shredding 4k format.

You know Andy Serkis is doing version of The Jungle Book too, right?  Yeah. I know.

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