Monday, May 9, 2016

Jungle Book Review: The Start of a New Era for Disney

By Rebekah Coley

Similar to the beloved renaissance era of the 90s, it is safe to say that Disney is once again on a cinematic roll. From the beautiful hand-drawn animation in The Princess and the Frog to the cleverness of Zootopia, fans have been given many reasons to have higher and higher expectations with each film. In today’s article, contributing writer Rebekah Coley discusses her thoughts on Disney’s reimagined release of The Jungle Book, and their plans to keep producing live-action epics...

Following the fantastical success of Kenneth Branagh’s live-action Cinderella that was released last year, Disney is currently planning to develop at least 14 more live-action remakes of their beloved animated hits. That’s right folks. At least. Now, it is no secret that I struggle with the decision to reboot old favorites (particularly with television shows; please see the following link to my personal blog).

It also may surprise some that I didn’t care for either Maleficent or Alice in Wonderland. While I appreciated the special effects and fantastical scenery, I felt that these classics were better left without revisions. To be frank, the unique twists that were forced upon the storylines felt… forced and uninventive. Based on this, I still went to see Cinderella last spring, prepared to just enjoy the film for what it was. And wow - my expectations were quite exceeded! In addition to the film being a breathtaking visual experience, the storyline remained mainly unaltered with a few exceptions that enriched the lovely tale. I found hope again regarding plans for the many upcoming live-action films. The Jungle Book has kept that hope alive.

Was this film perfect? Of course not. I admit that there were a couple of times that the script felt a little rough around the edges. However, despite a couple of ill-timed comedic gags, there are many reasons to fall in love with Director Jon Favreau’s production. First of all, The Jungle Book’s storyline also remained nearly identical to the original animated film. In this particular version, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) is given a backstory as to why he holds a grudge against Mowgli. I found this to be a refreshing addition to give the villain an identity other than “mindlessly vicious carnivore”. Regarding the other main players, Mowgli’s character (played by adorable newcomer, Neel Sethi) is also elaborated upon. In addition to Mowgli standing out for the obvious reasons, he is continuously building small contraptions and inventions. His natural desire to innovate earns him the disapproval of his wolf parents who fear that his creations will upset the jungle inhabitants. Thankfully though, the writers didn’t choose to cast Mowgli into a stock “savior” role. For the most part, Mowgli is very much a naïve, sweet, selfish, realistic child. His character is tested and bravery is required, but overall, the rendering of the character is believable.

Rounding out the rest of the cast, the audience gets to delight in Baloo (charmingly voiced by Bill Murray) and Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley who could easily pass for the original panther’s voice, Sebastian Cabot). Christopher Walken also lends his calm, “Godfather” vocal style to the character of King Louie. Unlike the silly ape in the animated version, Walken’s Louie is a chilling, goliath monster. I have to admit that I missed the lightheartedness of  “I Wanna Be Like You”, but the foreboding tone fit the scene. (Even the darkest parts of this film were far less grim than other live-action versions of this story.) Again, similar to Barnagh’s Cinderella, the story and characters were enhanced; not neutered.

Secondly, the strong cast and plot is set in a stunning world that is so realistic, you can never distinguish between the real and computer-generated images. (This was especially vital, due to the fact that 99% of the cast members are in fact not “there.”) Taking a note from Walt himself, the animators studied real animals so they could effectively imitate their mannerisms while also allowing them to speak.  The human voices behind the creatures were obviously studied as well. Anyone who has seen this film will readily agree that Baloo’s sleepy “Who me?” expression is none other than Murray, and King Louie’s furrowed brow was inspired by Mr. Walken. The blending of mediums in animation has come quite a long way from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit days.

Lastly, although Favreau chose to not make the reboot a musical, John Debney’s score tastefully pays homage to the original. Snatches of Sherman Brothers tunes can be identified as well, which I can only assume delighted many fans obsessed with Disney soundtracks (like myself).

Although many reboot television shows don’t scratch my itch, I can say that I am genuinely looking forward to Disney’s line-up of live action reboot films. With productions like Beauty and the Beast and Pete’s Dragon on the horizon, I am already eager to see how these stories will receive their own upgrades.  It is the beginning of a new film era for Disney; and by God, I think they’ve done it!


Rebekah Coley is a Pittsburgh native who has been obsessing over Disney films (and the corporation in general) for her entire life. Starting with a childhood of constantly dressing up in princess costumes, memorizing songs, and watching the newest Disney VHS tapes on repeat, her love and passion for Disney magic has not faded over time.

In addition to loving the most popular Disney movies, Rebekah has a soft spot for underrated works that didn’t receive the same fanfare (e.g. A Goofy Movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.) It is a passion of hers to remind other fans of their existence and excellence.

By day, Rebekah works in professional development and holds a Bachelors degree in Human Resources Management from Point Park University. By night, she performs in community theater musicals, reads and exercises compulsively, and strives to stay on top of any Disney-related news. As a lover of entertainment, Rebekah’s blogs focus on reviewing Disney’s theme park productions, stage adaptations, films, and books.

You can find additional examples of Rebekah’s work on her personal blog-

You can find all of Rebekah's articles here.

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