MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray.
The Disney Company has been busy remaking a number of its popular animated films as live action movies. Last year’s Cinderella was extremely popular and well received by moviegoers. A live action Beauty and the Beast film is currently wrapping up post production, and a sequel to Mary Poppins is cast and ready to be filmed.
The 1967 animated film The Jungle Book did not seem like a movie that was crying out for a remake. It was a loose, rambling story about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in India, who was nearing the age of adolescence and needing to make his way to the Man Village, leaving his animal pals behind and accepting civilization and – yikes! – girls! There’s barely a plot as Mowgli meets up with a variety of different animal characters and enters into a musical production number about every ten minutes or so. Loosely based on Rudyard Kipling’s Victorian era story “Mowgli’s Brothers”, it had some British vocal talent but otherwise was as American as apple pie. Hugely popular, it was never considered one of the great films in the Disney canon.
Director Jon Favreau has created something new and different, transforming the lackadaisical vibe of the earlier film into an exciting children’s adventure story. Replacing hand-drawn animation cels with CGI imagery, the filmmakers have created an entire world from their computer terminals. Motion capture was used so that the actors portraying the main animals could move alongside of sole human actor Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli. However, the cast filmed their parts separate from one another, waiting for the software to bring them all into the same scene.
The Jungle Book is a joy to behold, filled with color, movement and a large variety of lifelike talking animals. While there are no big messages in the film, if you pay attention you will find examples of cooperation, mutual respect, ecological stewardship, and anti-bullying. Bill Murray brings his laid-back style to his performance as Baloo the Bear and Christopher Walken creates his own version of King Louie, a 10-foot tall gigantophithecus who would love to be just like a human and have the power of fire – the “red flower”. Idris Elba embodies the fierce tiger Shere Khan with true menace, creating some genuinely scary moments that might frighten younger children.
There’s plenty of humor and laughs along the way, but violent moments as well, with at least two darker events that recall dramatic scenes from 1994’s The Lion King. While there is no denying the excitement of this film’s conclusion, the movie comes dangerously close to producing a level of noise and destruction that rival recent superhero films.
All in all, this is a life-affirming movie that takes us to an imaginary place through the creative teamwork of hundreds of artists, actors, technicians and software designers. As critic Michael Heaton noted in his review for The Plain Dealer it really is “fun for the whole family”. See it on a big screen and prepare to be dazzled.
Four halos: This loose reimagining of Disney’s 1967 animated film is filled with moments of wonder.
Two pitchforks: Violence, mortality, and the survival of the fittest are a part of the jungle ecosystem.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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