We saw The Jungle Book Sunday. The movie choice stacked up this way. Of the cinemaplex’s offerings, only the Batman-Superman conflict attracted me. Beth would rather The Jungle Book. For Erin, it would have been a tie between the two, except that reviews have been largely murderous concerning the contentious superheroes. Those same reviews made me rather eager for the experience, but it was not to be.
So we arrived betimes, settled into our comfy chairs, and saw the previews. Since an audience of youngsters was expected, the previews completely lacked explosions and all the rumbling assault that the previews I usually see revel in. Two offerings were animated sequels that you’ll have to take your kids to, and later they can stream it in the backseat of your car. Tother was a live action tra la featuring the dusty suburban perfection of ageless Jennifer Anniston, along with Hollywood’s most burnished situations and comedy. For example, apparent running joke of child peeing on park bench, HILARITY!
Then to the feature.
Only one human appears live on the screen, Mowgli. The youngster is comfortable in the role. The movie begins with him running with wolf cubs while Mowgli’s step-panther pursues. I thought the panther, Bagheera, was voiced by Patrick Stewart, but it was Ben Kingsley, as if there’s a difference. The animals talk, that is, speak English—talk and speak English are synonymous locutions—but I don’t think much bother went to making animal lips move. Most, but not all, the animals spoke English.
The jungle seemed more like a garden, lush green and prettily filmed. The animals are rendered lifelike in appearance but lifeless in action. Like animatronics, as Beth said. There’s plenty of kid-sized banter between the animals.
The crux comes during the dry season. When the Peace Rock is exposed in the pool of water, a truce occurs. During it, all animals may partake the water without fearing survival of the fittest.
And then Shere Khan arrives. This big slinky tiger don’t like no man, reasonably enough. All evil, he means to hunt down Mowgli, once the Peace Rock has been submerged again with the rains. Plot, tension, OMG!
Mowgli decides he must leave, to protect the pack. Bagheera offers to take him to man. Well then.
Off they go. Shere Khan appears and attacks. Mowgli runs. Bagheera fights the tiger and gets smacked down. Oh dear. Mowgli gets carried away by a running herd of wildebeest or whatever. Later, a rain-induced landslide throws the herd and Mowgli into a rushing river. Mowgli gets to shore, never mind the others.
Meanwhile Shere Khan comes threateningly to the pack, kills Akila, the alpha male, and maintains a solid threat. Standard evil incarnate.
Mowgli wanders thru the jungle, heading for the place of People. He encounters Kaa, the huge snake. She—voiced by Scarlett Johannsson—helpfully fills in the backstory of how Shere Khan killed Mowgli’s father. Mowgli’s father wounds the tiger with fire to save the boy. While the tale is told she slowly ensnares him. Then he is saved.
Mowgli wakes to find himself with a bear. Yclept Baloo, and voiced by Bill Murray, the bear saved Mowgli, tho I don’t know how or why. This is the most laidback and unthreatening bear ever. He’s just as realistic as the other animals in appearance yet somehow carries a cartoonish aspect.
Baloo wants Mowgli to collect honeycombs from a precarious cliff in recompense for being saved. Mowgli uses “tricks”, human ingenuity, to do so. As part of the pack, he was disallowed from doing such things.
Bagheera appears, not dead, to bring Mowgli home. He scorns Mowgli’s use of human ingenuity until Mowgli saves a young elephant. They plus Baloo head for the pack.
On the way, monkeys and apes abduct Mowgli. Oddly, these primates don’t speak English. They bring him to an abandoned temple atop a cliff. Within, amidst a mob of primates, is a King Kong-sized orangutan (my guess), who oddly does speak English. Voiced by Christopher Walken, of all the. Despite Walken’s unmatched cadence, this is a ridiculous scene. Especially because one of a couple of musical numbers has been squeezed in here. King Louie (sic) is too big for the temple and his chase thru walls to catch the escaped Mowgli is plain stupid. I should mench that Bagheera and Baloo helped Mowgli escape. The two battle the myriad primates, which somehow don’t pile up. King Louie manages to cause the temple to fall on himself.
King Louie wanted Mowgli to give him the red flower, i.e. fire. With fire, reasoned the big ape, he could rule the world. Mowgli didn’t know from fire.
I think when finally informed that Shere Khan killed Akila Mowgli went to the human village and horked a torch. Now to face the evil tiger. Shere Khan mocks the boy, who then discards the fire. Then the battle royal with the pack and the others fighting the tiger. The battles seemed unpackish, mostly one on one.
Eventually Mowgli runs, with Shere Khan in pursuit. Mowgli had already stated that he would no longer run from Shere Khan but okay. Mowgli had prepared a trap. Earlier there was something about dead trees. Mowgli heads into the trees and onto a branch. Shere Khan follows. The branch breaks. Mowgli catches hold of the swing he had set up earlier. Shere Khan falls to a flaming death. The shot resembled Gollum’s tumble into Mount Doom.
I read the book years ago. I don’t remember it well. I think Kipling’s animals had more gumption as animals than Disney’s aesthetic allows. Anyway, underlying the movie is an awe of movie magic. The technical aspect of all this verisimilitude is impressive. It simply plays without much emotion. I know the target audience is the young for whom emotion plays lively but still.
I will say that the credits had some charming effects. We see an open book, with apparent pop-up scenes. The figures tumble about in brief tableaux. The glimpse of the Jennifer Anniston movie—it should be titled A History of Hollywood Cliches—didn’t even want movie magic. Just the sense of salve for a populous needing entertainment as the ship nears the iceberg.