THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kiplings work has been popular on the screen. Although there have been a number of films based on his other books and poems with the likes of Elephant Boy (1937), Captains Courageous (1937), Gunga Din (1939), Kim (1950) and The Man Who Would Be King (1975), the most popular work to be adapted is The Jungle Book. The first of these adaptations was Alexander Kordas lavish live-action Jungle Book (1942) starring Sabu as Mowgli, followed by the most endearing and popular Disney animated version The Jungle Book (1967). Disney later remade this in live-action as The Jungle Book (1994) by Stephen Sommers with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. Over the next few years, we saw several spinoffs including the theatrical sequel The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997) and a tv movie The Jungle Book: Mowglis Story (1998), while the animated film was also followed by a sequel The Jungle Book 2 (2003). There has also been a Russian film Maugli (1973) and an anime tv series The Jungle Book: The Adventures of Mowgli (1989-90). Andy Serkis is also set to direct another adaptation with The Jungle Book (2018).
This new version comes from Jon Favreau. Favreau started in the industry as an actor with a breakout role in Swingers (1996), which he also wrote, and parts in other high-profile films such as Deep Impact (1998) and Daredevil (2003). He made his directorial debut with the mob comedy Made (2003) and had a hit with the Will Ferrell breakout comedy Elf (2003). This became a springboard to genre material with Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005), the big fanboy hits of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and the non-genre Chef (2014), as well as executive producing the post-catastrophic tv series Revolution (2012-4) and The Avengers films.
Favreau has turned to conducting a direct remake of the Disney film, the second live-action remake that Disney has offered. The plot follows the same path as the 1967 film Mowglis journey to the human village to escape from the threat of Shere Khan is used as the dramatic hook, and there are similar kinds of encounters along the journey with King Louie, Kaa the snake and Mowglis falling in with Baloo. (There are the encounters with the vultures and elephants too but neither are given any personification). In both, there is also the human threat of fire, desired by King Louie and ultimately used to defeat Shere Khan. The fact that Favreau is remaking the Disney film as opposed to returning to Kipling is confirmed by the use of two of the songs from the 1967 film, the hit The Bare Necessities and the Sherman Brothers I Wanna Be Like You.
Unlike the 1994 remake, which abandoned the talking animals aspect altogether (in all likelihood because the CGI and animatronics of the day were not up to the task) and gave us a version of Kipling that came out more akin to a Tarzan film, Jon Favreau has chosen to conduct a live-action version of The Jungle Book along the lines of Babe (1995) where the animals talk and exist as distinctive characters. Favreau has the advantage of top of the line effects houses on board, including MPC, Weta Digital and Digital Domain, as well as The Jim Henson Creature Workshop creating puppet equivalents of the animals to react with actors on set. The upshot of this is that we end up with talking animal characters that become their own distinctive characters indeed, there is only a single human character, Mowgli, in the film. The film hits its stride perfectly from the opening scene at Peace Rock where Favreau introduces an entire menagerie of animals. Most of all what strikes you with the scene is that you are watching the animals naturalistically interacting and that you invest your suspension of disbelief in what is going on.
The upshot of this is a series of characters of great depth in fact, the animal characters end up being far more distinctive than the sole human character, where Neel Sethi ends up giving us Mowgli as a far too precocious and modern kid. The key also ends up being some spot-on voice casting. Ben Kingsley prowls about with tight paternalistic concern as Bagheera, while Bill Murray voices a comically engaging Baloo to perfection. The most eccentric piece of casting is Christopher Walken who takes on the role of King Louie. Where the role was voiced by big band leader Louis Prima in the animated version, Walkens dry voice makes for a Godfather-styled Louie who is now incarnated as a stunning King Kong-sized orang-utan. Favreau bizarrely enough models these scenes along the lines of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979).
(Winner for Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 2016 Awards).