Comparing the original and the remake…
This week I’m doing things a bit differently. I’m going to look at a recent remake of a classic film and compare both films strengths and weaknesses. If you guys like it, I may do this again with other remakes at some point. Since I reviewed a horror action film last week, I thought I’d look at something lighter hearted and more innocent this time, and so I’ve chosen to look at the remake of the Jungle Book (based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling). The original was of course a film I watched and enjoyed a lot as a child, and it was interesting to see the story from a live action style. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Chef, was the director for this film, and for the most part he adapts the story and characters in a new and interesting way. Unlike many modern live action Disney remakes, this film does quite a few things differently.
I have to say that although the 1967 film is close to my heart, objectively it’s one of the worse Disney animated films. The story is very bare, the pacing is terribly slow and the animation is lazy; they re-use so many shots that you could make a drinking game out of them. The main saving grace is the humour and the music. The film is more like a series of loosely connected scenes which serve as an excuse for songs and animal antics, but for a young kid, that’s all you need. The songs are great, especially King Louie’s “I want to be like you”. It’s also a very funny film, helped by an easy-going tone that keeps you from taking the plot too seriously. However, as an adult watching the film in 2017, I can’t enjoy it on the same level. It’s quite boring in places, and for an animated movie set in the jungle, the colour is very bland and washed out.
The 2016 film takes the core plot and characters of the first film and expands them. Now Shere Khan has a backstory, a reason to fear fire and hate Mowgli. Now Mowgli has a more developed and nuanced character. This film is definitely a more serious affair. The tone is darker and less simple, the biggest conflict of the film is whether or not Shere Khan is right about Mowgli being a danger simply by using tools to survive. The ending of the film, in which Mowgli uses fire against Khan, but shows that he can be a danger to the animals in the process, is quite deep for a children’s film. In short, there is actually a plot this time.
The film is paced better, keeping Mowgli’s journey more focused. Although this film is quite long, there is never a moment that feels as though we are killing time, unlike the original film. There are homages to the original; Favreau keeps two of the best songs, although not as well sung by Bill Murray and Christopher Walken. If anything, these moments of song and levity seem to jar with the rest of the film. There are no other singing characters, and the stakes are much more real, so it feels weird for the characters to break into song only occasionally. Visually this film is far superior to the animated version. The CGI is breath-taking, and it is genuinely hard to tell what is real set and what is a CG background. It is amazing to me that we can use animation to render such photo realistic animals, fur and all. The characters are realistic, yet still loosely based around the features of the actor playing them. The colour in this is also rich and varied.
A key difference between the two films is scale. The Jungle Book 2016 is a deeper story, with more epic backgrounds, detailed characters and complex motives. Set against a simple animated musical from the 60’s it’s not difficult to pick a favourite. That isn’t to say the first one is a bad film, it’s just more shallow and smaller scale. They were limited by technology at the time so it’s no surprise they didn’t try to make realistic animals, nor that they went for a comedic musical. After all, the same style of animated films had made Disney a family success for years. However, these limitations are very noticeable, and they make the film feel quite small. The 2016 film has stunning CG locations which capture the imagination. Its not hard to picture yourself in ancient India, deep in the jungle.
Performance wise I would say the two films are equal. While the actors in the new film may not sing well, they bring these animals to life very well. Ben Kingsley is kind and authoritative as Bagheera and Bill Murray is both extremely chill and mildly funny as Baloo the bear. Idris Elba is terrifying as Shere Khan, his voice harsh and angry for most of the film. Neel Sethi does a decent job as Mowgli, a more rounded character and much less annoying than the original. Most of the other cast do fine, but have to short a role to be very memorable, however one character stands out among them. King Louie, played by Christopher Walken is incredible. Walken brings his strange awkward charm to the role and the motion capture of his face is bizarre. Walken brings a certain arrogance and danger to the character which was missing from the campy original. This ape is big enough and angry enough to kill Mowgli in one punch. The performances in the first film are very good except for Mowgli. In particular Phil Harris is a treat to listen to. As much as I love Bill Murray, he doesn’t have the rich deep voice of Phil Harris. English actor George Sanders played the voice of Shere Khan, and he brings a sophistication to this predator, an intelligence which contrasts well with his savage nature.
When comparing the two, it is clear that these are two very different films. Both have their strong elements, whether it be the songs, the characters or the plot, but I think that the remake may have a slight advantage. The fact is that the original version is quite a simple, bare bones films, and the way in which Jon Favreau adapted and expanded upon the film significantly improved it. On reflection I prefer the remake, even if it hasn’t got a scene as iconic as the bear necessities.