Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Jungle Book (2016) & Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle


Or: The Jungle Book v Mowgli: Which is Worse? 

They were announced at around the same time, and trying to one-up each other with their casting at the same time, but Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book beat Andy Serkis' Mowgli to release by two years. Still, I've always thought of them as competing movies, and never saw The Jungle Book, so once Mowgli released, I figured it was time to give them both a shot and see which is the winner.

They're both losers. Thanks for reading.

Nah -- I sat through both of them, so I'm gonna review and compare them, and I have a few things to get off my chest so hang tight.

Like questions. For example: Why does this elephant have moss growing on it??? (From Mowgli.)

The Jungle Book = the Disney live action remake. Mowgli = Warner Bros. sold to Netflix.
Mowgli: Neel Sethi -- Rohan Chand
Bagheera: Ben Kingsley -- Christian Bale
Baloo: Bill Murray -- Andy Serkis
Shere Khan: Idris Elba -- Benedict Cumberbatch
Kaa: Scarlett Johansson -- Cate Blanchett
King Louie: Christopher Walken -- N/A
Wolf Mother: Lupita Nyong'o -- Naomie Harris

Also in The Jungle Book: Giancarlo Esposito.
Also in Mowgli: Peter Mullan, Tom Hollander, Eddie Marsan, Jack Reynor, Matthew Rhys.

Some casts, am I right? It's an impressive list of names, and beside the two kids, there's not a one I'd hesitate to say is talented. They're all terrible. No okay, fine: the actors in themselves do as well as they could be expected to do. Some, like Murray, Serkis and Walken are woefully miscast, and others just do what they do. The real problem here is that the characters are bad because they have confused characters. And the characters are confused because the writing is confused, BUT -- award one point to Mowgli, because the writing there is much cleaner and more straightforward.

Even though we were already familiar with this one's plot. Sorta. (From The Jungle Book.)

The Jungle Book had the disadvantage of being a remake, saddled with a nostalgia checklist and new things to bring to the table. As a result, things like this happen: King Louie, a character invented by Disney for the animation, who was named after "The King of Swing" Louis Prima, now doesn't sing a jazzy song or dance, but is monstrous and meant to be scary -- but is counterintuitively played by Christopher Walken. Or, they needed Mowgli and Bagheera to be separated so Mowgli can meet Baloo, but it doesn't make sense that Bagheera would leave, so he gets knocked out in a fight with Shere Khan. Or, since Shere Khan's the bad guy he needs to be present from the beginning, so flesh out his threat to kill Mowgli. And he needs a backstory reason to kill Mowgli. And the wolves shouldn't give up Mowgli so easily. And there has to be mini adventures to pad the run time since there's no musical numbers, but no horsing around with military elephants. Elephants have to be taken seriously. Also, forget Mowgli going to the man village in the end. Who'd want that anyway?

(From The Jungle Book.) I mean... WHYY??

Mowgli, without the Disney template, does what it wants so the plot is just about Mowgli trying to be a wolf, but then having to leave because of Shere Khan's threat, living in the man village, and then saving the day from both Shere Khan, and the evil white hunter who's visiting the village to pretend to be nice while he breaks off elephant's tusks, and beheads wolf puppies. Wow, that degraded a little. But overall, it's considerably more streamlined and has a mildly clearer message, I guess. Neither hit the neat and simple plot and arc of the 67' animation though, of Mowgli searching for a home, wanting it to be the jungle, and finding out it's the village after all. Of course not.

(From Mowgli.) He has to complete a race to be an official member of the pack.

Let's talk about Baloo. Easily the best thing about the animation film, and no one really knows what to do with him now. The Jungle Book makes him a lazy bum who has to learn to care for Mowgli and at first only uses him to get honey for him. Most of the film he's careless and dismissive. And I've never seen Bill Murray be so droll and unfunny. I doubt it's his fault, but it was depressing to see. Serkis' version has Baloo work as a trainer for the wolves, so he's around for longer, but even more useless, and UGLY. Why they thought making Baloo ugly was a good idea I will never fathom. But Serkis does at least makes him expressive. I wonder if they used any motion capture for it. (Yes, I've discovered they did.)

(From Mowgli.) Just look at how weirdly ugly he is. This movie gave all its animals humanoid eyes, too.

The animation is an interesting subject, actually. The Jungle Book is two years old and the animation has already dated a bit, but it's still objectively better than Mowgli, I'd say. But what Mowgli lacks in budget and quality it makes up for in style. The creature characters have an extra kick of personality, like an amalgamation of caricatured cartoon and photo-realism. So animals are naturally more expressive, readable and recognizable, BUT, at the cost of them seeming out-of-place whenever humans other than Mowgli are in the same scenes. Mowgli spends a chunk of time alone in the man village, and it's like a completely separate movie -- and jarring when animals show up again. Still I prefer that to the characterless designs that happened in The Jungle Book.

They totally failed Baloo by making him walk on all fours. (From The Jungle Book.)

What else? Well, all my favorite things about the old animation were missing from the live action. Too silly for them probably, but that little movie lived of its snappy jazz tunes and 60's pop culture. I figured if they were gonna remake it they'd have some particular reason, but it really was just the original -- stripped of everything that made it original, fun, and meaningful. Bagheera was always my favorite and I missed him being that lovable grump. Neither film commits anything atrocious against him though, so that's good, I guess. In the remake I liked how Mowgli would drone on and on about nothing like kids do, and the final action sequence was a creative change. And I liked in Serkis' version how he put a little bit of unique style in there. Favreau's capable of style, but I doubt he was allowed.

If the original 67' animation wasn't a factor, the choice of which is better would be much harder -- but it is, and I can't not consider it. I watched it again after these two to cleanse my palate, and was instantly swept up in its nostalgia, enjoying its quirks, and noticing a few new things that went over my head last time (it's been a while). So I wonder, why do a remake at all? The nostalgia was much stronger rewatching the original, the hand-drawn cartoons will hold up much longer than computer animation, which becomes obsolete as improvements in the art are made, and all the memorable details are in the original, because the remake is afraid to push any boundary, yet is required to adhere to a more serious and realistic tone.

(From The Jungle Book.) "Keep two of the songs, but... sing them badly? I guess??" "Okay sure." -- Pitch meeting.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle wins automatically from that perspective. Quality-wise it's an arguable fight, but Mowgli has a different plot and new characters; and the familiar characters are utilized differently. It may not be good, but it earns its existence by being something unique. The Jungle Book (2016) is neither unique nor the best version of its story. It definitely had a bigger budget to work with, but for me, that's worthless without a soul, and that it lost along the way. Mowgli bored me after a while, but did seem to possess a soul, however weak a one.

So, The Jungle Book is worse. But the best isn't Mowgli -- the original, 1967 The Jungle Book is the best. I don't care that it wasn't supposed to be in the competition. As the only version of this story I've seen that I'd even consider recommending, it's the clear winner. And though I struggled to get through these two other films, I'm glad I did, since it inspired me to revisit this charming little classic that can still hold its own.

This is where it's at.

The Jungle Book (2016) -- 2 stars.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle -- 2 stars.
The Jungle Book (1967) -- 4 stars.


  1. ""keep two of the songs but.... Sing them badly? I guess??" "Okay sure" -- Pitch meeting"
    More like Out-of-Pitch meeting, amirite?

    Anyway, this sounds a lot more like the book, but I don't think the book would make a good movie if you do everything frame for text. I think The Jungle Book was okay, in its own right, although I definitely think the animated one was the best, it was way different from the book-Walt Disney even told everyone working on it who hadn't read it yet, not to, so they wouldn't be influenced by the book!

    1. Hahahaha noooooooo! That bad singing seriously annoyed me though...

      From what I know of the book it is more similar, but I think it takes it's own liberties. (I haven't read it tho, so.) It seemed like The Jungle Book wanted to return to the book too, when maybe they should've just gone the opposite direction. They both seemed constrained by rules they'd have been better off without.