I grumbled about the getting to this movie a bit on social media over the weekend, but it can be kind of a frustrating hike to see something at the furniture store: For me, it often means hoping that both buses I have to take are late in sync, and by the time I get there, it's often sold out. Not a problem if you buy tickets online ahead of time, but even if paying the service fee for a movie ticket doesn't bother you on its own, if those buses don't line up, you've paid fifteen bucks for nothing and you've wasted an hour. It's worth the effort - even if the 4K laser projection at Jordan's Reading doesn't look as good as the actual IMAX film did, it's the best digital projection in the area.
I was kind of disappointed that the film wound up taking so many cues from the animated version, right down to the songs, although that's not really fair - building these live-action versions out of the animated versions has been Disney's method of attack ever since they started doing them with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland - modernizing them a certain amount, but leveraging the familiar imagery, structure, and songs is in some ways the point. It used to be, Disney would re-release the movies in theaters every few years, then they would allow the video releases to dry up before re-releasing them with great fanfare (especially if it was on a new format). I don't know how much of a return those get nowadays - there are a lot of people who don't see much improvement past DVD, and I think Blu-ray is the end of the line for most of us. Maybe there will be a 4K digital file someday, but HD is about the end of my visual acuity in someplace the size of my living room.
So, rather than re-release the movies, they use them as R&D, much the way Disney's Marvel film division has 75 years of story and design work that can be repurposed in part for its familiarity. I also wonder if it's a matter of some of the audience that traditionally went to their animated films just doesn't go for cel-style animation anymore, to the extent that the nostalgia that previously pulled people in doesn't work, so it has to be recreated with live-action and CGI.
If the latter part is true, then that's sort of weirdly ironic, because this verison of The Jungle Book is basically an animated movie with a live-action character or two inserted. Animation disguised as live-action, and as a result not having the same access to the amazing things animation can do.
The Jungle Book (2016)
* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2016 at Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, 3D Imax laser projection)
What folks who hasn't cleared out of the theater by the end of the credits for this version of The Jungle Book snickered a bit when the line "Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles" came up, though the fact that this is nearly as much an animated film as the 1967 version from which it takes a number of cues may ultimately be what's most noteworthy about it when we talk about Disney's evolution in the future. Not that the kids in that audience worry about that much now; they got an entertaining adventure that's funny and thrilling in the proper places, and what more could they want?
It is, as per usual, the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a "man-cub" found as an infant by the panther Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) and raised by a clan of wolves. As Mowgli grows older, the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) is growing far less willing to let the boy live in peace, pushing him to flee to the closest human village. Moving out of his familiar environs, he will soon meet some of the jungle's other inhabitants: Hypnotic snake Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson); laid-back bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray); and King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan who costs the humans' "red flower".
It's a bit surprising that director Jon Favreau opted to have all of the animal characters and much of the environment rendered digitally; he's said to have favored practical effects when directing Zathura and the first two Iron Man movies in part because he likes to give his cast a lot of room to interact and improvise, and is a different game when everything is added in post-production (to be truthful, what was done on-set with newcomer Neel Sethi is live-action elements to be inserted into an animated film). There is little doubt that this is the right call; the special-effects crew puts together a visually astonishing picture, not just seamless in how Mowgli is part of a seemingly-endless wilderness, but taking care that giant 3D screens will be filed but not overcrowded. The character animation is similarly excellent; the animals are photorealistic enough to bridge the uncanny valley (where effects work is just close enough that the mind rebels), but also given just enough in the way of human characteristics that a viewer can easily connect to them as people of a sort.
Full review on EFC.