The Boy saw this well in advance of me—I was kind of cool on it and the girlfriend has more mainstream tastes than either of us (of course she does, we’re freaks)—so he went to see it and said, in essence, that he really liked the film except he thought the kid, Mowgli (Neel Sethi), was terrible. Of course, that’s a little like the argument that the Spanish version of Drácula is better than the American one, except for Dracula. Mowgli’s kind of a big deal. My folks had seen it and not had the same reaction toward Mowgli, so when I took the Barbarienne (the Flower hadn’t the slightest interest) to see it, he was interested in my take.
And my take was basically: I really couldn’t get into it enough to feel strongly about the kid. Yeah, sometimes he’s awful, but he’s in a green room talking to blocks, and Jon Favreau (Chef, Iron Man) is telling him to overact because, honestly, who the hell knows how any of this is going to read once the computer nerds do their thing? So it’s sort of remarkable to me that there are times when he’s not awful. On the George-Lucas-to-M-Night-Shyamalan scale, the performance is probably closer to Lucas than Shyamalan most of the time, but again: Not the kid’s fault.
And that was kind of how I looked at the whole thing: There are parts of it that aren’t awful, and a lot of the times I wasn’t sure how they could’ve been done better. Damning with faint praise, I suppose, if it’s praise at all.
Well, look, the Barb liked it. That’s what counts.
I was distracted by the relatively realistic (though often weight-less feeling) movements contrasting with the wildly unrealistic mouth movements when the animals talked. ’cause, you know, animals don’t talk. They can’t move their lips and jaws in a way that looks like talking; it’s weird when they’re made to do so. At least, for me. A kind of animal-uncanny-valley, if you will. It’s got a whopping 95%/89% on Rotten Tomatoes, though, you know, so I’m probably not your guy here.
The story’s okay. It bears some resemblance to the book, which I have just finished reading. It perverts the rule-of-law a bit by having Baloo endorse lawlessness, where in the book only the monkeys, who were savage, brutal, capricious and easily distracted (and by some lights, Germans) did not respect the law. It is highly selective in terms of the violence it shows by some set of rules I didn’t quite grasp. The betrayal of Mowgli and the elders to Shere Khan by the wolf cubs was left out, and I could see why.
The voices might drive you crazy. Scarlett Johannson was a female Kaa, which was fine, although they recycled the original Disney cartoon Kaa rather than bringing in the far superior Kaa in the book. More menacing than the guy who provided the voice of Winnie the Pooh could be, but also fast friend of Mowgli. Idris Elba was okay as Shere Khan but has far more warmth and less menace than George Sanders. Ben Kingsley was a reasonable choice for Baghira. Except for Ms. Johansson, I was largely just bugged by their voices.
Bill Murray, notably, obviously, plays Baloo. They turned Baloo into Bill Murray, which was okay, in the sense that the original cartoon turned Baloo in to Phil Harris. So Bill was Bill and there wasn’t any attempt to copy the original, but let Murray do his thing. That works well. He even talk-sings “The Bare Necessities” which works better than it should, considering that, up till that point, there are no songs to speak of.
What should’ve worked similarly well was using Christopher Walken as King Louie. Another easily recognizable voice and one known for its menace, as well as its distinctive phrasing, Walken was a really inspired choice. But for some reason, they made him 100 feet tall. They say this is based on an actual ancient orangutan, and he’s only ten feet tall, but I think that’s nonsense. He’s Kong-like, smashing through the ruins of a city like only a Kaiju can. (They nailed the ruined city, though, gotta say. And it’s a nice homage, or maybe a really rude one, to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.)
And then he starts singing. But not like good Christopher Walken singing, but like Bill Murray talk-singing. It’s bizarre. Again, I hasten to point out the 95% RT score, but I didn’t get what they were going for here. Scary, like really scary, but wait, can’t scare the kids. It’s schizophrenic.
So, yeah, long-story short, I didn’t care for it much. Didn’t hate it, had a lot of sympathy for Favreu and company trying to make art out of some arbitrary set of standards imposed by MegaCorpWithEars. But found no reason to be excited about it, either.