Jungle Book, The (2016)



Main Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray

Director: Jon Favreau

The contracts are signed and the ink is dry.  Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, have double checked all the fine print so I can now publicly announce that I have been signed to star as Pennywise, the clown, in a new musical adaptation of Stephen King’s celebrated novel, IT.  We are scheduled to start shooting in just a few weeks and there is so much to do to get this very important picture under way.  Capitol Pictures is not one of the bigger studios but they have a long and fabled history and I just know with me as star, I should be one of those five names read just before they say ‘the envelope please’.


They’ve got the right idea! Now to glam it up a little.

There are a few little rewrites that will have to be done on the script.  The storm sewer sequence will need to be redone as a dream ballet and we’ll need to make sure that the kids can tap up a storm, literally and figuratively. I slipped the casting company the number for Mrs. Tuttle’s Tapping Tots, whom I have worked with before.  They’re up to the challenge and should be fine on set as long as they’re kept away from open flames.   I’m also insisting that Pennywise be female in nature and form.  I’ve done pants roles in the past but essaying a transgender role as a cisgender actress in this day and age is asking for trouble and I refuse to be responsible for committing microaggressions.  I’ve already asked Bob Mackie to work up some costume sketches.  The clown outfit for my opening appearance will be tres décolleté with a bias cut skirt and a form fitting bodice that will enhance all of my natural assets.  I’m also insisting that the creative team do something about that spider at the end.  It’s hard enough tapping on two legs.  I don’t want to attempt eight.

Leah, my gal Friday, came over later in the morning and we began to map out the ideas for a publicity campaign.  There should be plenty of opportunities to relaunch MNM brand merchandise under the new slogan ‘Vicki Lester is IT’.  We just need to be sure that we have things in the latest style ready to go.  I think we can do a whole new line of VickiWear sports clothes based on Pennywise’s look.  What modern American female wouldn’t want to dress like me in one of my most exciting roles ever?  The two of us were so excited, that we decided the best way to unwind would be with a film of high adventure, but with some fantastical elements included.  We therefore made ourselves a couple of huge Harvey Wallbangers and headed off to the home theater where we popped Disney’s recent live action remake of The Jungle Book into the machine and settled into a viewing.

Rudyard Kipling’s late19th century adventure stories of the boy Mowgli living amongst the animals of the jungles of India have long been a popular staple of children’s fiction.  The author used his anthropomorphic animals to comment on the social mores of the British Raj and Victorian society.  The stories were originally created for magazines and there is no specific plot or through line, just life lessons as young Mowgli is raised by wolves, gets involved with a sloth bear named Baloo and a panther named Bagheera and battles the fearsome tiger Shere-Khan.  In 1967, Disney released a musical animated film which took elements from the original stories and placed them in a happy and wholesome context, turning Kipling’s wild originals into cuddly theme park toys.  It was the last film that Walt Disney personally oversaw before his early death from cancer. That film was a hit and joined the growing roster of Disney animated classics, re-released every few years to a new generation of children.

In recent years, the studio has been raiding their vault and doing live action remakes of their classic animated titles.  The needs of live action film being somewhat different than those of cartoons, this has required some serious rethinking of the properties, often with mixed results.  Writer Justin Marks and director Jon Favreau wisely realized that a live action The Jungle Book needed to be a fantastic adventure story and went back to Kipling’s original tales, taking elements from them and melded these with other elements from the beloved cartoon to create a bit of a Frankenstein monster.  It has elements of thrilling adventure, lovingly filmed, and then all of a sudden we’re in the midst of a monkey song and dance number.

What works?  Even though the film was made entirely at the studio in Los Angeles, you never once feel like you’re anywhere other than an exotic jungle setting.  The mixture of CGI, richly detailed set (production design by Christopher Glass), and stunning photography (cinematographer Bill Pope) make this a feast for the senses.  The creation of the animal characters (CGI with famous voices) is also brilliantly realized.  These characters move and react like real animals in a nature documentary.  Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and Baloo (Bill Murray) have an edge of danger and wildness that never existed in the original cartoon.   Young Neel Sethi, the Indian-American boy who plays Mowgli, gives an assured and athletic performance as the jungle boy, racing through the forest and climbing through the trees.

What doesn’t work?  The decision to keep the songs from the original musical.  These animals are not song and dance characters.  Having a realistic Baloo floating in a real river and singing ‘The Bare Necessities’ just comes across as weird and takes us completely out of the film.  It just doesn’t work.  King Louie, the orangutan who seems to have immigrated from Borneo to central India, is introduced with an air of menace and evil.  Having him break into ‘I’m the king of the swingers’ just makes you want to laugh for all the wrong reasons, even if it is Christopher Walken.  The kids may love it, it may bring back fond memories of childhood in adults, but it’s completely wrong for the film.

There’s enough good in the film to make the problematic sequences forgivable.  The film was also a huge financial success which means we will continue to see more live action Disney fare in the near future.  We’re promised a revamped Beauty and the Beast with Emma Thompson and Dan Stevens in the near future.  As a princess film full of high fantasy, it’s more likely to feel more seamless using the original’s musical material.   Personally, I am looking forward to a live action Frozen and will make sure that my schedule is clear to play Elsa.  After all, I have experience with long periods on ice and no one can let it go quite the way I can.

Watering hole.  Forest fire.  Tree leaping.  River splashing. Wolf battles.  Evil snake. Gratuitous Scarlett Johansson.  Piles of fruit.  Symbolic dead father.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by Primodono

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