Normally, a Jungle Book movie would not make it into my “must watch in the cinema” list. Now, considering it’s convenient and relatively inexpensive to watch movies in Singapore, that list isn’t particularly stringent, so if I say a movie wouldn’t make it to the list, that means I’m really not interested in it. I’m not big on animals (they’re fine in animation, but I’m less tolerant of them in a live-action capacity), and really, The Jungle Book doesn’t really have much going for it by way of plot that’s not already general knowledge. And in most other circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I was looking for something to take Mom to on #CheapMovieTuesday, and while she’s not particularly picky, it was pretty much the only movie running this week that I thought she might actually enjoy. Mom and I just got back from the movie (literally just – I’m gonna have to start running on US time for these posts), and I’m happy to report that I would’ve forgone a truly wonderful experience if I’d stuck to my original criteria and given it a miss.
Although I was quite a voracious reader as a young ‘un, I never did get around to Kipling’s books, so it’s hard for me to imagine how this story might be effective in prose form. It’s odd, considering the classic has such deep roots in Indian culture – I always found it funny that the “names” of the animals are just generic Hindi words for those animals – but it never caught my attention. My memories of Jungle Book are mostly limited to the cartoon version that played on Indian TV, and the music from the 1967 movie, particularly The Bare Necessities, which was always an instant earworm. I didn’t have much memory by way of story or characters – apart from the fact that Mowgli was raised by wolves and that Shere Khan was pretty much the original Scar from The Lion King.
So, going in, I didn’t really have any expectations from this latest movie – I hadn’t even seen the trailer before this. I just knew they’d gotten an Indian kid to play Mowgli and lined up a pretty impressive voice cast. And for the first 15 minutes or so, I got what I was expecting – impressive CGI, but nothing out of the ordinary from what we’ve seen from Life Of Pi, Avatar and the likes, your usual cute-but-a-bit-green acting from the main kid and plot that seemed a bit too childish.
Now, I can’t really pinpoint what it was that changed after that – the appearance of a comedic element (Baloo’s introduction almost immediately makes the movie better), stronger voice-acting (Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is A++, but Christopher Walken basically being regular flavour Christopher Walken in a children’s movie was what really stood out for me) or the introduction of music (The Bare Necessities is still an awesome, awesome song) – but halfway through, I was as engaged as I would’ve been for my usual kind of adult fare. Once the movie sort of found a balance between trying to look visually impressive (which it is – I hope we never get to a point where good CGI stops being impressive) and telling an interesting story, it got that much more entertaining.
Also, usually, I hate the presence of kids in a cinema (that’s where my non-parent mode kicks into high gear), but the kids in the row behind us were so into the movie (their mom was having to explain some of the more subtextual ideas) that it was sort of hard to get annoyed. One of the kids kept trying predicting how the movie was going to go, following it up each time with, “Right, Mom?” and even I, with the heart of stone, couldn’t help but smile at how much he seemed to be enjoying himself. It was a good reminder of how formational this kind of experience can be for children. It was also heartening to realise that Pixar aren’t the only ones capable of making movies that are enjoyable for both 8-year-old and 28-year-olds.
(Oh, a word to the wise – if you’re going to watch this, stick around for the end credits that are pretty much their own gorgeously rendered mini-movie. Plus, bonus Scarlett Johansson singing!)
Also, speaking of music and enjoyable things: