[By Greg Ehrbar]
Does a remake/reboot/reimagining (choose your favorite) of a movie or TV series succeed best in the hands of someone who truly embraces the source material? Some directors have gone out of their way not to see too much of the original. Others were unabashed fans. Neither is a guarantee of success, but maybe the answer lies in between. In the case of The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau proved, at the very least, that it pays to do your homework.
Anyone can say, “Oh, I loved this when I was a kid,” and hope no one will call them on it. Favreau, as evidenced in numerous interviews—and the exemplary Blu-ray audio commentary—dug deep into the Disney roots. He mined elements of what he calls “the big five:” Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi, studied transcriptions of Walt Disney’s staff meetings and screened Disney and non-Disney films with his team for inspiration. He even visited the Walt Disney Archives to reshoot the 1967 film’s storybook to use in the 2016 end credits.
The result is not so much a slavish paean to Walt Disney’s version as it is an expansion on both the film and the book using the resources that have come to fruition in the ensuing years. Beyond that, Favreau’s inspirations are an eclectic blend of cinema and literature. In the commentary, he reveals one springboard after another, among them Apocalypse Now, King Louie being the Darwinian link to Marlon Brando.
Favreau arrived fashionably late to the CG fair, approaching it with caution while layering multiple techniques. Rather than draw attention to the gee-whiz aspects, there’s a refreshing restraint. Every frame is crammed with high technology, never for its own sake, but to draw the viewer into the stylization and accept its reality. Thus, The Jungle Book makes a comfortable transition from theater to Blu-ray, retaining plenty of scope but gaining home-screen intimacy.
In addition to Favreau’s audio commentary, the Blu-ray includes three bonus features. The longest is a half-hour segment called “The Jungle Book Reimagined.” Favreau sits in a café with producer Brigham Taylor and Effects Supervisor Robert Legato to reflect on the production experience. “I Am Mowgli” focuses on young Neel Sethi, whose natural abilities (under Favreau’s guidance) made him a remarkably fine Mowgli.
The last short feature is “King Louie’s Temple: Layer By Layer,” touching on the musical score helmed by composer John Debney (a spot-on choice by
Favreau, given his talent and Disney lineage) with session sequences featuring Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman, Bill Murray, Dr. John and the mellifluous Christopher Walken. (This segment is the only bonus material included on the DVD).
No one who made 2016’s The Jungle Book set out to replace the groovy 1967 crowd- pleaser. Both hold up nicely and would make a fine double-feature. Like the parents who were “trapped” by two Hayley Millses, when you’ve met both there’s no need to keep them apart.