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As someone who read Kipling's book a hundred times as a child, but only saw the Disney version in my late teens, I was really looking forward to this adaptation. I enjoyed the Jon Favreau version, but mostly when it borrowed dramatic and poetic moments from the book - I found its occasionally forced comedy and reliance on nostalgia a bit distracting.
In many respects, I was very satisfied with the film. It was great to finally see Tabaqui and Messua appear on-screen (although neither of them plays a crucial part), Shere Khan having a limp, Bagheera telling Mowgli about being born in captivity, Baloo being a grumpy, stern teacher, and Kaa being one of the good guys. Its dark, dramatic tone was also more in line with the book than Disney's and Favreau's more comedic approach.
However, it's still a Pragmatic Adaptation rather than the Near-Identical Adaptation some claim it to be. There are Canon Foreigner characters, and major scenes play out completely differently from the book. Most of these changes are understandable, though - for example, the monkeys being allies to Shere Khan rather than a Wacky Wayside Tribe makes the iconic kidnapping scene more integrated into the plot. I still missed some of the book's memorable scenes - Shere Khan doesn't stick his head in the wolf den, Kaa doesn't perform mass hypnosis on the monkeys, and not even once the iconic line "we are of one blood, ye and I" is spoken.
Oddly, the film also makes many similar artistic choices to the Favreau film that do not come from the source material. Kaa's Gender Flip and the monkeys and elephants being The Voiceless are the most notable ones, but both movies also feature a wolf runt as Mowgli's friend, a scene where Bagheera pretends to chase Mowgli as part of a training, and another one involving Mowgli, an elephant and a rescue from a pit (but with the roles reversed).
Some of the film's positive aspects are the great performances by the actors (both the live-action and the motion-capture ones), the spectacular backgrounds, and the beautiful music that gives perfect atmosphere for each scene.
Finally, let's talk about the elephant in the room: the character designs. Integrating the actors' facial features to realistic animal bodies creates an unsettling Uncanny Valley effect that can be very distracting. I understand the choice - this way not only the actors' voice acting, but also their facial performance is kept -, but the film's enjoyment very much depends on whether you can get used to it.
And one more warning: the film features a cute and likeable animal character suffering a gruesome fate, so if you feel that such a thing would ruin the film for you, keep away from it!
All in all, this is probably as close to a faithful big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Kipling's book as we will ever get. For those who liked Kipling's original (and won't be turned off by the Uncanny Valley designs and the dark and tragic plot elements), it's definitely worth a watch!
After an extended period of waiting, the other live action Jungle Book has been released. And while it does show a lot of ambition the execution is not quite up to the task.
Andy Serkis steps up as a director for the first time and his debut sets out to be more true to the text and grittier than either Disney version. Characters are much more in line with the original book in terms of personality (Baloo is considerably grumpier, Kaa is a neutral Old Master, etc.) though new characters like a Great White Hunter are added in to expand on the two worlds Mowgli is torn between. Overall the intent is admirable though it does sometimes feel like some of the darkness is for the sake of darkness, not the plot.my
Sadly the movie fumbles the actual execution somewhat. The voice acting is good, but the limitations of mo cap technology is exposed... While it is brilliant on human-like characters like apes or Gollum, trying to apply it to wolves or bears or a snake just looks... Wrong. Emotive human eyes on a realistically animal face means it convinces as neither.
I admire the film and the director for his vision. I just don't especially enjoy it as a film.
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