Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Jungle Book: Amazing Earth Day Fare

Review of The Jungle Book (2016), Disney. 5 out of 5 fish.

It is seldom that a movie succeeds in pleasing everybody, but the new Disney Jungle Book deserves to. It is faultlessly made, appropriately nostalgic, and entertaining as all get out. Even so, the Bear left the theater in his usual pensive mood, rather than humming "The Bare Necessities."

Technically Perfect

The Bear is deliberately not going to go into the technical details of the film. We have reached the point where computer generated imagery and live-action are indistinguishable. This may be the first movie where the audience just accepts what they are seeing on the screen without going, "Wow, that looks incredible!" like we did when we saw Avatar away back in aught nine.

Everything looks gorgeous and believable. Jungle vistas, set-piece catastrophes with hundreds, if not thousands of elements, and the fluid, realistic movement and behaviors of various animals, come across as artless. As in being without guile or effort. (Especially those of a hopelessly misplaced ursus arctos, or Brown Bear that befriends jungle boy Mowgli.) Even the physics look perfect.

The Story

The story opens with Mowgli being raised by wolves and tutored by black panther Bagheera. Although loved, he just doesn't quite fit in with the pack, and his simple, but ingenious, "man tricks" are frowned upon. Nonetheless, he joins in reciting the Wolf Creed (which will evoke fond memories in former Cub Scouts) and does his best.

But Bengal tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba (best known as "Stringer" Bell from The Wire, although sounding more like Jason Statham here) wants Mowgli dead. They have a past, you see, involving fire, which has left the tiger blind in one eye.

The wolf pack cannot protect Mowgli from the tigrous menace, and so he volunteers to go away to a man-village to keep the peace. Bagheera, who originally brought the "man-cub" to the pack, agrees to escort him out of it. On the way, Mowgli learns to bow to elephants, who are considered to be some sort of collective creator deity by the jungle animals.

Separated from Bagheera, Mowgli meets Baloo the Bear, voiced by Bill Murray. He even sort of looks like Bill Murray around the eyes. While it may sound like a misstep sticking Bill Murray in the Indian jungle, he is not the only character with a distinctly American accent, and they all work. Scarlett Johansson's Kaa is very different from Sterling Holloway's memorable voicing in the 1967 Disney animated version; more seductive and hypnotic. Holloway's rough, high-pitched voice lent itself more to laughs. (You will want to sit through the entertaining credits, if only to hear her sing the "Trust In Me" song that didn't make it into the movie proper.)

Baloo comes across as an affable opportunist who sees in Mowgli only a way to collect otherwise unobtainable honey. They quickly bond, however, and even sing a delightfully discordant duet of "The Bare Necessities." Baloo wants to keep Mowgli in the jungle as his pal, but Bagheera shows up to quash that idea.

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to mention that a surprising amount of realistic menace and violence takes place alongside the funny and cute, so keep that in mind with little ones.

One of the most impressive sequences is when Mowgli is snatched from Bagheera and Baloo by apes. Tossed hand-to-hand across the canopy, his friends cannot readily follow, and he is delivered to an ancient temple. In an homage to Marlon Brando's introduction as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, the giant ape King Louis gradually emerges, rubbing his head, from a chiaroscuro that would make Caravaggio squint. King Louis has everything but "the red flower," or fire. He believes Mowgli, as a man-cub, can provide it.

King Louis is voiced by Christopher Walken -- another distinctive, and perhaps, risky choice. Yet once again, it works beautifully, even when he sings the "I Want to Be Like You" song as only Christopher Walken could.

The "hey, have I got the right monkey temple?" episode continues (guess which character asks that?) until it ends with a hilarious monkeys vs. Bear fight that literally brings down the house. (The Bear was pleased to see Baloo as a main character, even though he must wonder how a Brown Bear arrived in the Indian jungle. The Raj. Who can tell what Englishmen might do? It does allow for a tiger vs. Bear fight, anyway.)

The Bear will not go further with the narrative, so as not to spoil things.


The animals, with the exception of Shere Khan (who did get his eye burnt out, after all) are an appealing and peaceable lot. Presumably, the wolf pack has a vegetable garden off-camera. Nature is not red in tooth and claw. They even have their conventions, such as no fighting at the watering hole, which even Shere Khan honors. They must bow to the elephants out of respect to nature's creators and guardians.

However, as much as the Bear loved The Jungle Book 2016, he could not help but notice that when Mowgli sneaks back to the man-village one night, it is represented by figures silhouetted against an unnecessarily enormous fire. They appear as demons in Hell. Fire represents man's destructive effect on the environment. This is an important theme in the film. The animals fear man's control of "the red flower," and mistrust him on account of it. Only King Louis, as an animal the closest to man, covets stolen fire in order to become like a man himself.

This is definitely after the Fall. Man and animal do not live in harmony. Before the end, Mowgli is faced with a promethean choice that will determine his place in the world.

This is why the Bear was pensive afterwards. Is it a coincidence that it is out just in time for Earth Day? Unlike the 1967 version, Mowgli's choice between the jungle and the man-village is not made easier by a cute girl carrying a water jar. On the other hand, is man's portrayal as the faceless destroyer, unable to wisely use his powers in cooperation with nature, any less decisive than the earlier, sweet Disney version?

And Now, the Real Question

Who would win if a Bear (specifically, ursus arctos) fought a tiger? Outside of the rare and indecisive scuffle in his circus days, the Bear has wisely avoided fighting tigers, or anything else for the most part. Personally, he suspects it could go either way depending on many factors. Bears can absorb a lot of damage, and are incredibly strong, with paws like wrecking balls and jaws that can chew paving bricks like pretzels. Tigers are quick, clawed, and themselves have fearsome jaws.

But tigers are also fighting out of their weight class.

To resolve this question for his readers, the Bear turns to science: Animal Planet. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bear presents Bear vs. Tiger.


  1. Looking forward to seeing this, Bear. A friend of mine puppeteered the movie's Bear to Bill Murray's voice before the CGI was added.

    1. Cool. Don't know how they managed the magic, but it is something.

  2. I waited with trepidation the arrival of one of my favorite stories, Jungle Book, and worried about how mangled up Disney would make it, since every story is now political and agenda driven. The original Jungle Book couldn't be sweeter or more entertaining. All the characters are adorable, and we've watched it so many times. It is very exciting that they have managed not to ruin it entirely, but you are surely correct, man is the bad guy, always. What an odd lot liberals are, hating themselves, their own culture, capitulating to the belief that mankind is the problem and ought to really be eliminated. Perhaps that's why there appears to be not as much outward resistance to the eventual takeover by Islam. Isn't this called nihilism?
    Thank you for the review!

    1. I haven't seen it yet. It was made by Disney, so I'm sure it's relentlessly political. Bear notes a possibly discordant ending which points to an unsatisfying conclusion.

      The power of Kipling's story is in the elemental journey of a young boy to manhood capped by his surprised and confused finding of new and powerful purpose in a young woman. Only this breaks the jungle spell of his baser instincts and jungle friends for an unidentifiable "something" more powerful than jungle play, pack position or "fire". The movie ends with the boy achieving something every human being desires at their inner core. It presents Truth in a fun little 90 minute package.

      But apparently this good, godly, timeless original story structure is replaced in the new Disney version with structural DNA focused on something much different and less: earth-day issues of man vs nature, nature and not man the ultimate point of the story and moral objective. It infects everything, so I am not surprised at this.

      Won't be seeing this one until a DVD rental.

  3. Oh, I would have guessed right off that a bear would win against a tiger. Just bigger and massive. The clip was good, though I would like to see a real match. I think. Until I have to turn away....

  4. Thete were no homo animals? Well praise be! We're always hearing about the homo animals defense of human homosexuality.

    Seattle Kim

    1. No, not that I could tell. There are no homo animals. There are bored and dim-witted ones, though.

  5. Thanks Bear. Great review. We will be seeing it Monday. You are most talented movie reviewer and much else. You need more recognition----and salmon.

    1. Enjoy. And thanks! The salmon arrived packed in dry ice on a FedEx truck this morning.

  6. Hey I live 1/4 mile from a salmon hatchery!

  7. I just watched this tonight, and gotta say I'm enraged. This was an important part of my childhood and they cut the girl from the end. I wanna go wander around downtown till I get the opportunity to punch a feminist. This is how it's supposed to end :

    That's kinda the point of the movie. And they lost it.


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