The Jungle Book (2016)

jungle12016.97: The Jungle Book

I’ve never seen Walt Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book, other than the clips they would endlessly re-run every Easter on Disneytime (anybody else remember those?), so in some ways I came into this one in a rather unique (I would imagine) poston of not knowing what to expect. These live-action remakes that Disney are doing are quite clever really, rather like the remakes/reboots that Hollywood in general is so keen on these days. They seem to be working quite well too, on the evidence of this one; such a pity that The Black Hole remake seems to have stalled- if ever a Disney film deserved a (better) remake, its that one. In anycase,  this film benefits greatly from modern technology giving it a fresh angle, in just the same way as the recent Apes reboots have for Fox.

Its also ironic, that speaking as someone who bemoans the amount of cgi trickery and how it mucks about with quality film-making, it must be said that the 2016 Jungle Book (inspired no doubt by some chap watching Life of Pi a few years back) would have been quite impossible without cgi. The technology can be responsible for some pretty remarkable film-making, such as Pi and stuff like Gravity. Indeed most films -and particularly much television too- benefits hugely by cgi; like any tool, it just has to be used well. Its just too easy to miss-use it I guess. Its funny, I remember much the same argument being made about those ILM effects back in the original Star Wars era.

Is it the fault of cgi that screen-writing seems to have suffered so greatly over the past twenty years or so? I mean, it has to be partly to blame, mustn’t it. Its too easy to replace drama and carefully orchestrated plots and character arcs with loud explosions and flashy spectacle, and that’s such a shame as films -particularly blockbusters- seem to have degenerated into amusement rides rather than ‘proper’ (as I would call it) epic storytelling like the 1959 Ben Hur.

But that sounds like an old bugger whingeing about the disrespectful masses who wouldn’t dream of watching anything from the pre-Spielberg era of motion pictures and film-makers who have no intention of educating them.We are where we are.

So anyway, Jon Favreau’s rather remarkable new Jungle Book is quite the wonder. As someone who grew up in the ILM bluescreen era, for whom these cgi wonders are still eye-popping so long since Jurassic Park changed the movie landscape, much of the imagery and trickery on show is utterly astonishing. It looks quite ravishing, and I always watch this kind of stuff wondering what Hitchcock or Kubrick would have made of it (sorcery, maybe, but what wizards they might have been handling a toolset such as this in their movies?).

Newcomer Neel Sethi is something of a particular wonder as Mowgli, though, a mote of humanity in a cgi landscape whose bubbly personality and sense of pure innocent wonder is quite charming and steals the show from the effects boys.  His performance is a wonder when one considers what the live-action shooting of this film likely entailed (i.e. nothing at all like what the finished film looks like). Vocal casting of the animated characters is pretty spot-on too, with Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, and particularly Idris Elba as the villainous Shere Khan all very impressive and largely equal to the cgi visuals. The jungle feels real, although it most likely is utterly virtual. I have the impression that, like Avatar and Gravity before it, this new Jungle Book is a stepping-stone to something; I’m not sure exactly what, but there is something up ahead, a particular film in ten years time maybe, that when it hits will blow people away and people will trace its lineage backwards to stuff like those films, in just the same way that the Flash Gordon serials led to Star Wars. In anycase, this new Jungle Book is fine entertainment, one of the real achievements of 2016.

Inside Out (2015)

2016.3: Inside Out (Blu-ray)

inside1Inside Out is without any doubt Pixar’s best film in years, breaking a run of what have been at best pretty average efforts. Of course its hardly fair for every Pixar film to equal Ratatouille (my own personal favourite) or The Incredibles but here the magic is clearly back again; you can sense that boundaries are being pushed again at last and the ready Pixar formula of making popular hits has been left to one side for (most) of the time to enable a few risks to be taken.

The story concerns what goes on in the mind of young Riley, a little girl living happily in Minnesota until her family moves to San Francisco. Emotions of Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust run a control room in Riley’s head, trying to help her lead a fulfilling life and keep her safe and happy but the move to San Francisco proves to be too much even for them. Losing her familiar home, school and friends, Riley increasingly falls into feelings of loneliness and despair, and the efforts of Joy and Sadness to return Riley to a contented state backfire when they are accidentally thrown out of the control room (leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust left to try manage things on their own with disastrous results).

Lost down where long-term memories are left behind and eventually even forgotten completely (memories contained as moving images within spheres of light reminiscent of Doug Trumbull’s Brainstorm), Joy and Sadness have to learn to work together to get back to the control room in another A-B trip/journey of self-discovery so familiar to Pixar fans. This last point perhaps betrays Pixar reverting to formula but there is so much imagination on display here it’s hard to fault. Its funny, its clever, it’s quite touching at times and has a powerful story within it about what makes us ‘us’ and the power of memories (and how we remember them).

inside2Its a great film and really quite magical. This is what Pixar does best when everything seems to just ‘click’ and the animated form manages something live-action couldn’t.  I cannot imagine what Walt Disney himself would have thought had he been able to watch films like this and see what animated features have become at their very best.

As usual I’m left wishing that live-action films could have so much care and craft be given to their scripts as the best Pixar films have. Thats the real magic afterall to these films- yes they look gorgeous but really its the characters and the scripts that are the real achievements.  And kudos to Michael Giacchino for providing the film with another great score; he really seems to have a special knack of supporting these animated features with the fun and pathos of music that intensifies and supports everything we see.