Friday, June 28, 2019

Jumanji (1995) (Movie Review)


      Some movies are regarded as classic for their contribution to cinema, while others have simply held-up as great marvels over time. Then there’s what I like to refer to as “nostalgic classics”, movies that can’t really be regarded as meaningful cinematic achievements, but still left an impressionable impact on our childhoods. 1995’s “Jumanji” is a prime example, as it was one of my favorite movies to re-watch at home as a kid, and it even expanded my imagination in ways that phew other genuine classics have done. I’ll admit that “Jumanji” doesn’t exactly hold up as “high art”, and it’s a mostly derivative experience, but even with that said, I still have nothing but love, fondness and excitement for this film. Looking back, this was one of the most original movies of my child hood, as it wasn’t tied into any established franchise, and was insanely creative with its premise. It also stands as a great template of how to adapt a short picture-book into a cinematic adventure. Based on the 1981 children’s book of the same name, “Jumanji” is an adventure story revolving around kids who discover a mystical board game. It may seem like a plan and ordinary game on the surface, but once the game begins … a magical and exciting jungle adventure comes to life before their eyes. The house gradually begins to resemble a jungle, and the players encounter animals and other obstacles along the way, all ranging from silly monkeys, to stampedes of Rhino’s, to rainy weather, and even a hungry lion.


     The original book kept all its attention on two siblings named Judy and Peter, but the movie highlights how the game gets passed on through the ages, and it brings in additional game players. We begin with a cold-opening set in the 1800’s, in which two brothers have clearly gone through hell playing the game, and are trying to bury it underground in effort to spare anyone else from ever playing. It’s actually a chilling opening, and did a good job hooking my interest while showing very little. 

We then jump ahead to the 1960’s, and we meet a young boy named Alan Parrish, who’s currently having a difficult relation with his father. He accidentally unearths the game, and while playing with his girlfriend Sara, he unexpectedly gets transported to the mysterious jungle world of Jumanji. 26 years later, we meet the novels original siblings Judy and Peter, who have just moved into the abandoned parish house. It doesn’t take long for the two to discover the discarded game, and upon playing, they not only unleash all the dangerous jungle creatures on the quiet town, but they also bring back Alan Parish, who’s now a grown man. After Alan reunites with his grown-up girlfriend Sara, the four decide to beat the game once and for all, return all the animals back to the jungle, and all while avoiding the deadly aim of a ruthless hunter.   
     

     While the book kept all the excitement contained in the house, the movie wisely takes things outside, expands on the mayhem caused by the animals, and gives our heroes a lot more ground to cover. Yet, the house still remains the central playing ground four the characters to fall back on, and the house itself ends up feeling like a character. On a technical level, it’s just a lot of fun watching the setting of the house get unmade and transform all through the course of the movie. I especially love that there’s variety to the many obstacles that emerge from the game, whether it be animals or other dangerous jungle elements. The lion, monkeys, Rhino’s and in-door rain-storm were all lifted from the book, while other obstacles like the killer plants, giant bugs, quicksand, bats and crocodile were all original concepts for the movie. The main appeal of watching this movie as a kid was anticipating what kind of new and exciting obstacle may come from the game next. Both the lion and the man-eating plant were my two favorites, as they thrilled me the most, and led to some engaging action set pieces.     


     Let’s talk about Robin Williams in the lead role of Alan Parrish, as this is one of the key ingredients that allowed “Jumanji” to leave a memorable impression on us 90’s kids. Speaking personally, I was initially exposed to Robin Williams through various Disney films like “Aladdin” and “Flobber”, but it was his leading role in “Jumanji” that got me to put a face to the actor, and it’s here when I took note of his name. While not on par with his absolute greatest roles, I still find his portrayal of Alan Parrish to be an underrated performance on his filmography. As is typical with Robin Williams, he’s both consistently funny and charming, but he also adds subtle layers to the performance that take it a step above his other comedic roles. When Alan first returns to his present-day time, the movie wisely puts all the adventure elements with the animals on hold, and focuses solely on the emotions of the character as he returns to a home town, which has become a shadow of the life he knew as a child. It’s a lengthy sequence without any action, yet Robin Williams performance caries so much, to the point where I don’t even notice the lack of animals on screen. Of course, his witty remarks and animated personality likewise make the character all the more memorable and fun to watch.    
   

    Among the films many highlights is the villain, a deadly hunter called Van Pelt, who’s played with a lot of menace and charisma by Jonathan Hyde. Just like our main hero Alan, the villain Van Pelt was a completely original character created for the movie. 
He was intimidating, had a memorable look, and yet, was enjoyably hammy in a lot of his delivery. He forever changed the way I’d play hid and seek with my childhood friends, because I’d never say “Here I come, ready or not” like a normal boy … oh no, I’d always be channeling Van Pelt the way he malevolently says “coming, ready or not”. What really makes this character shine is that he parallels Alan’s relation with his father. Taking a page from “Peter Pan”, Jonathan Hyde plays both the hunter and Alan’s father, which was a brilliant idea. It’s especially effective how they mirror each-others words. In the past, Alan as a boy would get scolded by his father, telling him that “he’ll never be a man, until he starts acting like one”. Then during the climax, Alan finally stands up for himself, faces his fears head on, and Van Pelt responds with the chilling words “good lad … you’re finally acting like a man”. One of most mysterious moments is when the boy Peter first arrives in Alan's abandoned home and discovers the statue of an intimidating man, who also resembles the villain. That always had me speculating if Van Pelt was a long past decedent of Alan’s family, which would further explain why he bears a resemblance to his father. In short, this performance, laced with the duality of the character made Van Pelt one of my favorite childhood villains of the 90’s.   


    The remaining cast is all very likable, and even memorable in their own special ways. Bonnie Hunt plays our grown love interest Sarah Whittle, and she’s a perfect counter point to Robin Williams. It’s another committed performance brimming with personality, but she’s more closed-in, next to the lively Robin Williams, and yet they both convey a charming chemistry when on screen together. Bradley Pierce is the quiet boy Peter, who says little, but is always quick to think on his feet. Weather, it be using reverse psychology on a grown adult or climbing a log over a water fall to retrieve something valuable from going over, he’s always quick to adapt to a situation, and displays a great deal of courage during frightening situations. It was something that always inspired me at a young age, because I was also a quiet boy that didn’t socialize, yet I always felt that urge to break out of my comfort zone and do something exciting. One little detail I never cared for was the boy getting transformed into a half-child half-monkey hybrid. It isn’t exactly a bad addition to the film, it just doesn’t seem to serve much of a point.


     At last, we come to the young Kirsten Dunst as the older sister Judy, who is cute as a peach, and like Williams, she adds a lot to the film’s nostalgia factor. 
She was one of those young actresses I grew up watching through several movies from the decade like “Kiki's Delivery Service”, “Little Women”, “Interview with the Vampire”, “Small Soldiers”, and even a memorable episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. As I grew older, I found myself exposed to even more memorable films with her, all while she was growing from teenager into a young adult, and it’s one of those special cases in which I felt like I was making a connection with an actress through the ages. I bring this up because “Jumanji” was the movie that introduced me to Kirsten Dunst, and there’s something special about looking back at her in this film while in that mind set. Her performance has even held up fairly well, as she brings her own charisma to the table, and manages to stand out while sharing a scene with such big talents as Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt … that’s no small feat for a child actress. There is one small detail revolving her character that always felt a pinch off-putting, and it takes place during the films climax. While battling some nasty creatures in the attic, Kirsten Dunst’s character Judy encounters a deadly plant that spits venomous barbs into her neck. She collapses shortly after, and Alan states that “her only chance is if we finish the game”, which always suggested to me that she might have actually died. Obviously, Kirsten Dunst is no stranger to playing the pretty damsel, but seeing her die, even temporarily, might have been a bit much.
     

     A common criticism aimed at this movie is that it was far too scary and intense, which I can understand to a degree, but then again, I was about six years old when I first saw this, and I handled everything just fine. Truthfully, the only scene that actually scared me and kept me awake at night was that dooming monologue conveyed by Robin Williams on what it means to face real fear. Isn’t that interesting, the one scene that actually scared me is the only one that didn’t feature any monsters attacking the kids. 
I will admit that the animal attacks are far more menacing then “fun”, but for me, it was that element of real danger that elevated the excitement. Even when I was a kid, I never felt that an adventure would feel complete without facing something intimidating. In fact, the over-arching theme of the movie is about facing fear, and growing into another stage of adulthood when your stand-up to the things that terrify you. Whenever I watched this film as a little kid, I always felt that I was climbing a figurative latter into maturity, as I was able to face the menacing creatures on screen, and got a damn thrilling adventure in the process. I should also note that the director of the movie is Joe Johnson, who’s known for making family movies with a slight edge. His first movie was “Honey I shrunk the Kinds”, which was another film that got criticized for being too intense for children, yet has a dedicated fan base from kids that grew up watching it. In a sense, I feel that movies on the line of both “Jumanji” and “Honey I shrunk the Kind” provide a sense of danger and intimidation that’s actually kind of healthy for kids to grow up with. Life in general provides frightening obstacles all the time, and when a kid can say they were able to face something menacing on film, it’s an important stepping stone for them to face the real-life horrors that will inevitably come.   
    

     This is also one of those movies that’s stuffed with little moments that have always stuck with me, like the one lone rhino trying to keep up with the herd, the monkeys watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TV, the police officers busted car noting his door is ajar when it’s actually missing, that randomly changing music montage of the step-mother putting the house together, and the whole film is just full of details I could further take note of. The special effects on display are a little mixed, but for the most part are still quiet spectacular. Some of the CGI dose admittedly look a little dated, namely the monkeys, the quicksand and some shots of the stampede. Thankfully, this movie wasn’t overly reliant on CGI, and features a fair amount of practical effects, which have all held up extremely well. For example, both the man-eating plant and the giant spiders were all brought to life through puppets and animatronics, and they still look great. Even the climactic sequence of the house getting ripped in half by an earthquake was mostly done in-camera with practical miniatures. 



Zathura: A Space Adventure” 

Now, without going into a full review, I do want to comment on the 2005 spin-off titled “Zathura: A Space Adventure”. Once again, this movie revolves around two siblings who discover an enchanted boardgame that comes to life, and takes the players on a wild adventure. The key difference is that this venture is set in outer-space, and features obstacles ranging from out of control robots, to meteor showers, to nasty aliens and so forth. I neither grew-up with this film, nor saw it in the theater, so it has no nostalgia barring, but it’s actually a credible spin-off, and it’s a good alternative to “Jumanji”. “Zathura” is far more fun and lighthearted, yet still packs the elements of adventure and excitement. While the characters are completely forgettable, and there’s some cringe moments, the “game play” in “Zathura” is actually superior to “Jumanji”, as there’s more to it then just surviving dangerous obstacles. Sometimes the players need to aid a stranded astronaut, other times they can use a code to win an enemy robot to their side, and there’s just so much more detail and variety to it. Truthfully, while “Zathura” has never stuck with me like its predecessor, it’s still a fun family adventure flick, and one that I think deserves a little more attention then what it’s got.          



Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” 

Then of course we have the surprise runaway hit sequel in 2017 titled “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”. I honestly never would have imagined that a sequel released seventeen years later could possibly work … but it did. This film once again is far more lighthearted and fun in tone, and cranks up’s the comedy to ten. There’s a new cast of likable characters, and the premise is given an appropriate update. This time Jumanji is a video game that transports a group of young players into its jungle setting, in which they inhabit their own distinct avatars. It's a fun and creative concept that lends to some funny material and some entertaining action set pieces. While there’s noticeably less animals then before, the film still provides a terrific variety of exciting sequences, funny situations, and is just an all-around good time. Its only real shortcomings is that the villain sucks, some of the comedy over-stays its welcome, and I miss that edge that made the original such an engaging adventure.  
     

     In the end, "Jumanji" has remained a cherished gem from my childhood, and I think it’s aged better than most people give it credit for. It may not be the smartest, or most heartfelt, or even plot driven, but it is still an exciting adventure movie that can appeal to both kids and adults. If done right, I think a straight forward adventure is all a movie needs to be. After all, movies like “Raiders of the Lost Arc” and “Jason and the Argonauts” are nothing more than escapist entertainment, and still regarded as classics ... so why not this one. Well, for those of us who grew up with "Jumanji" it’s still endured as a nostalgic classic. Heck, even the acclaimed children’s book from 1981 didn’t offer anything deeper than an imaginative diversion. In my view, the movie succeeded in recapturing the spirit of its source material, expanded upon its creative possibilities, gave us even more characters, and all of whom are given just enough layers to stand on even ground with the spectacular effects. It’s a film that broadened my imagination, made me a fan of Robin Williams, and still to this day rejuvenates the adventurous child within me.


I give 1995’s “Jumanji” 4 ½ stars out of 5.     

     

My Top 10 One-and-Done movie Franchises



       I’ve loved movies my whole life, but while I’m always open to viewing any kind of film, it’s long running movie franchises that I personally love the most. There is just something so rewarding about returning to a familiar place, and getting reacquainted with favorite characters. In all honesty, the majority of my favorite movies are individual installments from franchises I love. However, there are certainly some film franchises that I love more than others. In truth, there are some long running franchises that I certainly enjoy, and am always open for a new installment, but I never really re-watch any films within the series. These are what I refer to as the One-and-Done franchises, in which I’m certainly glad I gave the series a single viewing, but I’ve never had any real desire to re-watch any of them a second time … with maybe a single film exception. So, with all that said, these are my 10 biggest film franchises that I’ve gladly watched once, but have never re-visited.  


#10 The “Alien” Franchise 


Let me start by saying that 1982’s “Aliens” is one of my all-time favorite movies, I watch it at least twice in the span of three years, and it still holds up. The first “Alien” was admittedly a classic, but I’ve personally never been a fan, and I can’t imagine sitting down and watching it more than twice in my life time. Every other film in the “Alien” franchise has been a one and done film, and I’m perfectly okay with that. “Aliens” is really all I need … truthfully, it’s all I want, but having said that, I don’t mind giving each follow-up Alien movie a single viewing, just for the sake of occasionally seeing something different from the one movie I'm familiar with. They could stop anytime or continue, and I really don’t care either way. I have my one great movie, and will passively enjoy watching whatever comes along ... at least once.    


#9 The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Franchise 


Again, it’s the same deal as I had with the previously mentioned “Alien” franchise. 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” was the very first superhero movie I ever saw in my lifetime, and I’ve held it close to me all my life. Heck, with all the outstanding modern superhero movies we keep getting, that first live-action Ninja Turtle movie still holds up, and has its own unique charm that separates it from my love of current superhero movies. However, I’ve never really been on board with any of the Ninja Turtle sequels, but I also haven’t regretted seeing each of them once. Again, just for the sake of occasionally seeing something different from the one movie I’m familiar with, it’s kind of refreshing to see a new film, even if they’ve all just been one-time viewings.      


#8 The “Paranormal Activity” franchise 


October is my favorite time of year, and it’s a season built on traditions. We go out trick-r-treating, we dress in costume, we venture into haunted houses (fake ones obviously), and for a while, it was kind of a fun little tradition to get a new “Paranormal Activity” movie every Halloween. I’ve never given a single movie in the franchise more than one viewing, they never meant that much to me, but there was still an appeal to its spooky formula, and it was kind of exciting to see how each film would change things around. The overall simulation experience of each film was something that, for me, could only work for one viewing, and that’s why I didn’t mind the initial abundance of sequels. While the later films just got painful to watch, (hopefully the series is done for good) it was still a nice little Halloween experience, and even though I’ll never give any of these movies a second watch, I still don’t regret the overall experience as just a one-time thing.  


#7 The “Karate Kid” franchise 


I didn’t see any of these movies until after I graduated from college, but I get the impression that they would have meant more to me if I’d actually grown up with them. I marathon-ed the whole series in one weekend, including the remake and that lesser “Last Karate Kid” spin-off, and even at their weakest, this series had a distinct charm that held my attention for a solid viewing experience. I’ve never given any of these movies a second viewing, but I remember them just fine, and liked them for what they were. I certainly wont be including them to my collection of favorites, but I certainly don’t regret watching them for a second, and would recommend them to any fans of the time tested under-dog sports movie formula.  


#6 The “Pink Panther” franchise 


There was a time during my young Middle School years and my early high school years, in which I was obsessed with comedies more than any other form of movie entertainment. At the height of my comedy phase, I marathoner the lengthy Pink Panther series, which currently consists of eleven films. While there are select films that warranted repeat viewings, the series as a whole was really just a one-time event. It provided some laughs, and was fun to experience at a certain age, but I’ve changed a lot sense then, and really don’t need to ever see any of those movies a second time … with the exception of the one or two entries that REALLY got me to laugh.    


#5 The “Mission Impossible” Franchise 


Talk about an action series that started low, and grew into a mega, critically acclaimed franchise, with each new film doing better than the last. Well, I’ve seen each movie once, and with the small exception of “Mission Impossible 2”, I’ve never really wanted to give them a second viewing. That’s not to say I hated them, on the contrary, I understand why the recent films have received critical acclaim, and each film has made for a worthwhile viewing experience. I think the reason they’ve never personally stuck a landing is because their so similar to James Bond, but without that same charm and appeal that continues to bring me back to those films. I think that’s why “Mission Impossible 2” is the only film I gave a second viewing, because that was the least like Mission Impossible and felt the most like James Bond. Both are good franchises, and both will appeal to viewers on different levels. For me, I’ll keep James Bond with me for life, while the “Mission Impossible” franchise was a worthy one-time viewing experience.   


#4 The “Pirates of the Caribbean” Franchise 


The first “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was a fine piece of entertainment, and one that’s held up for some repeat viewings, but it’s truthfully never been an absolute favorite of mine either. It’s many sequels by contrast did even less for me. While each film provided just enough escapist fun to hold for a single viewing, they just weren’t good enough to bring me back for more than that. I know this series was a monster hit for its respected decade, and while the first movie still holds up, I don’t think the initial excitement of its many sequels have “held much water” over the years.


#3 The “Kung Fu Panda” franchise 


Now here was an animated series that caught me off guard, and was so much better than its goofy title suggested. Each film provided lovable characters, decent morals for kids, creative action set-pieces, and contained some gorgeous animation. Yet, for some reason, unlike other great animated franchise that I still watch into my adulthood, this was just a one-time experience that was really good, but just never felt called to re-visit. I can’t even explain why that is, because I loved all three movies in this series, but for some reason, I was happy with one-time viewings for each film, and I guise that’s just all they needed to provide for me.   


#2 “The Hunger Games” Franchise 


During a time when I was feeling fatigued with the state of movies, “The Hunger Games” franchise was one of the most important in bringing me back to my love of going to the movies. Each film made for a solid theatrical viewing, and they were all consistently strong movies. However, while I saw each movie once in the theater, I’ve never re-watched any of them once on any kind of home viewing. I still remember each film for their individual strengths, but I’ve also been content with them as one-time theatrical viewings, and I guess that was all they needed to be. Again, there was nothing off-putting about this series, but for reasons I just can’t explain, I’ve just never had any really want or need to watch any of them again. Definitely a good though, and some of the best in what modern day literary adaptions have to offer.  


Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions …

The Expendables” franchise

The Superman” franchise

The Frankenstein” series

The Pok√©mon” franchise

The John Wick” franchis





#1 “The Rocky" Franchise 


While I’ve seen every movie in the Rocky franchise once, I’ve currently at the time of this post, never watched any one of them a second time. Yet, with that said, make no mistake … I love the Rocky movies with all my heart. It’s been years sense I’ve watched the majority of them, yet each and every viewing has stuck with me all this time. With the one exception of “Rocky 5”, they’ve all been immensely positive experiences. I’m also very excited for when a new film comes out, with the latest “Creed 2” being yet another strong film. In general, how could you not love Rocky, he’s perhaps the most humble and sincere character from any film franchise. The series itself channels varying emotions, as they can be profound, depressing, uplifting, and powerful all at once. They can also be wild and over the top too, which is still good fun, but it’s the driving heart at the center of the series that makes them so captivating. Through up’s and downs, good times and bad, Rocky still stands strong, and it’s so easy to cheer for him or Creed every step of the way. Whether you take the films seriously or not, these movies can always pick me up and give me that extra confidence to push through some of my own personal struggles. I can’t explain why I’ve never re-watched any of these movies, but the experience I’ve had with them was still very positive, and it’s absolutely a winning franchise in its own right. 

      The End


Monday, June 24, 2019

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994) (Movie Review)

       
       It was in 1894 that a collection of stories set in the jungles of India came about by author Rudyard Kipling. When rounded together, these stories are more commonly known as “The Jungle Book”. Over time, it’s been credited as classic literature, but its popularity remains largely through its many adaptions for film and other media. For me personally, everything started with Disney’s live action 1994 film titled “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book”. 

This was it, all my child hood fondness for “The Jungle Book” begins with this movie. As far back as I can remember, it shares a spot along with “The Wizard of Oz” as one of my very first live action movie experiences. Thus, it’s always remained a nostalgic benchmark as the very first time I embarked on an adventure in film, and well before I discovered any of the big titles like “Raiders of the Lost Arc” and so forth. Just about every member of my family had that old VHS tape of the movie, and it just resonated with me as a classic. Truthfully, it wasn’t until years later, around the age of seven or eight that I discovered the more famous animated Jungle Book movie by Disney. No joke, whenever someone mentioned Disney’s “The Jungle Book”, I always thought they were talking about the live action 90’s film. Even more embarrassing, I didn’t even know about Rudyard Kipling’s original books until I was well into my middle-school years. What really shocked me back then was that, despite Rudyard Kipling’s name being above the title, Disney’s 1994 live action version of “The Jungle Book” has very little in common with its source material. It makes this a tricky film to discuss, as it’s certainly not a faithful adaption of a classic source material, but I still have so much love for it as a memorable family adventure film from my child hood.     


      The movie begins with a memorable tracking shot on a map of India, mixed with a triumphant musical score composed by the great Basil Poledouris. As our venture in the jungles of India begins, we meet Colonel Geoffrey Brydon played by Sam Neill, who’s in command of a settlement where a regiment of the British army is stationed. His little girl Kitty takes a liking to a small Indian boy named Mowgli, and leaves him with a bracelet from her late mother. During a vicious attack from the tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli is separated from the group, and gets lost deep in the Jungle. There, he finds himself in the care of a pack of wolves, and a black panther named Bagheera. Years later, Mowgli grows into a man, but has lost all his humanity. 

Through a series of events, he finds himself reacquainted with the human world … and more specifically with his childhood friend Kitty, who’s now a grown woman. Recognizing her mother’s bracelet, Kitty identifies him as the lost boy Mowgli and tires her best to re-educate him back to being a person. Unfortunately for Mowgli, the more he learns of the human world’s greedy and violent ways, the more he wants to return to being an animal. Into his midst comes a savage team of treasure seeking hunters lead by a British officer named Captain Boone. Using Kitty and her father as a bargaining chip, Boone forces Mowgli to lead his team on an expedition into the darkest parts of the Jungle to find an ancient lost city … and more specifically it’s hidden treasure. As you can tell by the synapses, this film plays out less like an adaption of “The Jungle Book” and feels more like “Tarzan” meets “Indiana Jones” ... but is that a bad thing, … well, it depends on how much you love the source material versus a movie experience on its own.


     The first of many strengths to the film is the cast, which is comprised of many great talents that I was being introduced to for the first time through this movie. Granted, it was through “Jurassic Park” that I became a fan of Sam Neill, but it was cool afterwards to connect him to a childhood favorite. In my view, Sam Neill was one of the decades most underrated great actors, and this movie highlights him at the prime of his carrier. Another one of my favorite actors who was in his prime was famed British comedian John Cleese in the role of Dr. Plumford. While this certainly wasn’t one of his funniest roles, his presence still adds a lot of charm and likability to the experience. Jason Scott Lee is our star in the role of Mowgli, and it’s his commitment to the part that really drives the film. It’s one of those special cases where an actor just disappears in the role, and everything he brings to the role feels genuine. His animal behavior, his curious expressions, his subtly developed human personality and the way he carries himself never once come across like an actor going through the motions. The image of him running through the jungle with the wolf pack has always stood in my mind as something iconic. I also love the visual of him leaping off a huge cliff side, with a waterfall as a backdrop.


     Now let’s talk about Lena Headey as the love interest Kitty Brydon. Obviously, I’ve come to love and respect the actress over the years for her roles in “300”, and especially her portrayal of Cersei Lannister in “Game of Thrones”, but it was through “The Jungle Book” that I had my first crush on her. 

While her character is a familiar archetype of both a damsel and a love interest, Lena Headey delivers a solid performance, and infuses the character with a mature, yet extremely lovable nature. She just radiates this natural sense of both joy and beauty whenever she’s on screen, and her chemistry with Mowgli is very genuine. The image of her on the balcony of the India palace always made me feel like she was a live action Disney Princess in a castle. The last star who likewise makes this movie so appealing is Cary Elwes as the villain Capt. William Boone. While I’m sure most people remember the actor best for his roles in “The Princess Bride” or “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, this is the role I’ve always associated him with the most. While Cary Elwes can definitely make for a charming hero, he also makes for a very charming bad guy. It’s obviously a one-note villain who’s after both treasure and the attractive girl, but Cary Elwes carries the role with so much class, and delicious wickedness. Jason Flemyng is also very enjoyable as his clumsy first man named Wilkins, who everyone tells to hush up ... “Shut-up Wilkins”. There’s also a second villain named Buldeo, who’s familiar with the ancient city our villains seek, and is also responsible for the death of Mowgli’s father at the claws of Shere Khan during the beginning of the movie. This was actually a human character from Kipling’s stories, but he was heavily altered for this films version. 


    The cast continues to shine with all the animal’s featured in the film, and this once again adds to the appeal of the movie. Every single animal featured in this film is a professionally trained animal, and such a treat when compared to our modern movies and all their CGI animals. All those current live action remakes of “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book” and their motion captured animals don’t even hold a candle to what this film accomplished back in 1994. Not enough people respect the acting talents of Orangutans, as the one playing King Louie is very charismatic, lol. The only animal who’s both a puppet laced with CGI elements is the snake Kaa, and he’s a serviceable effect. While Kaa isn’t in the movie for long, I still like that he’s the figurative dragon grading the treasure chamber. One little detail this movie always had over the cartoon for me was Mowgli’s wolf companion named Little Grey Brother, as he was one of my favorite animal characters. The bear Baloo is likewise very lovable, and the panther Bagheera is awesome. I should also note that the animals never speak in this version, and personally, I’ve always preferred it that way. The animals on their own convey so much that I feel voice actors would just come off as distracting.


     Without a doubt the animal with the most commanding presence of all is the Bengal Tiger named Shere Khan. Ever sense my childhood exposure to this movie, Tigers have been my all-time favorite jungle animal. Unlike most versions of “The Jungle Book”, Shere Khan isn’t a villain in this film, and instead is a neutral force of nature. He’s basically the jungles watchful guardian, and the keeper of the jungle laws. While Shere Khan dose kill Mowgli’s father in the opening, the two never become rivals, and only have one encounter at the very end of the movie. Shere Khan challenges him to see if he’s more man or animal, and in the end, Khan respects Mowgli as a creature of the jungle. While I’ve always loved the concept behind Shere Khan’s new formed respect for Mowgli, the initial stair down between the two is admittedly kind of goofy in its execution. Regardless, this is still my favorite portrayal of Shere Khan, as he brings a great deal of tension to the film without becoming a villain in the process.  


       The jungle itself is a fleshed-out character with its own magical quality and personality. It’s a tight setting, but it doesn’t come off as claustrophobic, and I always feel swept away by its distinct atmosphere. Not only are the locations and scenery gorgeous to behold, but the jungle itself feels alive with animals in every frame, and details like birds or monkeys in the foreground or background. I’m also a big fan of map paintings, and there’s such a timeless appeal to some of the map painted backdrops. 

The ruins of “Monkey City” also provide some captivating designs and beautiful hand-built sets. As my very first adventure movie, this was the film that introduced me to conventions like explorers lighting a fuse that illuminates all the temple interiors and the treasure chamber. It’s something that would be replicated in future adventure films like “National Treasure” and “The Mummy”. On that note, this movie was directed by Stephen Sommers, the same talent who directed both “The Mummy” and its sequel. He’s a natural talent bringing energy, excitement and wonder to treasure hunting adventures of this sort. For example, I love when the temple is first illuminated, as there’s fire igniting from snake statues, and the flames light up various animal pictures, which are all paired with distinct animal sounds. It doesn’t make any logical sense, and is clearly the director being artsy, but it also enriches the setting with a unique atmosphere and mood. The pacing is also really good, and manages to remain consistently engaging without being quiet as action packed or overblown with spectacle. Whenever Mowgli is developing his relations with the humans, or the group is off hunting treasure, I’m %100 drawn in. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a matter of all the right ingredient’s woven together that elevate the films simplicity into something engaging.
    

     I mentioned earlier the incredible opening bailed composed by Basil Poledouris, and his music is another key ingredient that carries the film. He’s the same artist who composed the music for “Conan the Barbarian”, so he’s no stranger to enriching a film with a captivating music track. Speaking of music, this film is likewise responsible for introducing me to classic ballroom titles like Johann Strauss Jr’s “Wine, Woman and Song”, “Emperor Waltz”, and “Blue Danube”. I’m sure we’ve all heard his music in one form or another, and for me, I’ll always think of “The Jungle Book” whenever I hear one of his immortal tracks. The Ball room sequence is another perfectly executed scene that varies through different shifting moods. It starts a little goofy with Mowgli trying to fit in, which segues into a beautiful dance between our two lovers, but then things take a turn when Boone announces engagement plans, which lights a fire under Mowgli. Caught off guard, Mowgli is made a public fool, leading into an emotional breakdown in which he refuses to be called a man.


     My absolute favorite individual scene is another one of the more serious and frightening moments, in which Boone takes Mowgli on a tur though his section of the palace. The conversation starts off calm and well mannered, but things gradually get more heated as Mowgli discovers what kind of sick and malevolent man the Captain really is. He then turns left into Boone’s office, which is full of taxidermy animals. 

This triggers a mental vision in Mowgli, as he hears the gunshots and horrific animal cries coming from the lifeless creatures surrounding him. This scene was shot with a great deal of intensity, tight edits, and a relentlessly haunting overtone. It’s an eerie, yet very powerful. The scene would later be spoofed by Jim Carry in the comedy “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”. Another emotional highlight is when the bear Balue makes a noble sacrifice, and takes several bullets in order to protect Mowgli. This scene was always hard to watch as a kid, but I love the way it was shot, especially when Mowgli goes running off in grief, and the color pallet turns Black and White. Now I will admit that for every dramatic highlight, there’s also something really cartoony that doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the film. One little off-putting detail takes place during a chase scene, in which a man snake charms a rope to become a ladder, and subsequently providing our hero a convenient means of escape. Thankfully there aren’t too many moments like that, but when they happen, it tends to break the mood. 


      Once we get to the third act, this PG Disney family film takes quiet the dark turn as every one of the villains is killed off in memorable and horrific way. 
Boon is eaten by Kaa, poor dumb Wilkins gets shredded by Shere Khan, the one henchman falls off a cliff side, and the death of the villain Buldeo is like something from out of a “SAW” movie. As he’s chasing Mowgli through the temple, he gets sealed in a small room that slowly fills with salt. That scared the hell out of me as a kid knowing that he was in for a slow death, and with absolutely no chance of escaping the sealed-up room. 

The most terrifying death of all was the cruel jailer, who after giving Mowgli all kinds of abuse meets his demise by sinking in quicksand. It’s another slow burning death scene as he tries desperately to get out, his comrades fail to pull him out, and then he just sinks into the disgusting black muck. I really don’t know if I should write the violence and darker moments off as a positive or a negative. It’s not material I’d typically want to show kids, but at the same time, the film leaves a lasting impression on us young viewers, and it makes the movie all the more fun to look back on and say “wow, can you believe we were exposed to this as kids, and from Disney … it’s kind of amazing”. Personally, I never felt that the dark or violent moments went too far, as I remember watching this and pulling though it fine. One thing that unfortunately doesn’t hold up very well are the action sequences. The film has great set up, but clumsy fight choreography and awkward staging leaves much to be desired, which is inexcusable sense this movie has a martial arts legend like Jason Scott Lee in the staring role. For example, there’s a scene in which Mowgli fights this big henchman, but it’s awkwardly staged, and looks like two people trying to hug each other to death. The final show down between Mowgli and Boon is another perfect example of great fighting potential that comes off as cringe and goofy in execution.    


      So, in the end, dose Disney’s very first live action remake of “The Jungle Book” really hold up? Well, it certainly does for me, but that’s also a very personal opinion brought on by my childhood nostalgia of growing up with it. 

I know it doesn’t work as a faithful adaption of a great literary source material, but then again, several other note-worth movies have strayed from their respected books, and turned out classics in their own right. Look at both “The Shining” and “The Wizard of Oz” as perfect examples, as neither are judged as faithful adaptions, and are more commonly viewed as just great movies in their own right. 1994’s “The Jungle Book” in my view is a terrific family adventure film. It has just enough of an edge to appeal to adults, but just enough warmth, charm and excitement to appeal to kids. I also feel that with all the different versions of “The Jungle Book”, this film offers a refreshing and unique alternative. While the movie obviously has its cheesy moments, and dated qualities, the majority of it still wins me over. I love seeing real animals performing on film, I adore the cast, the scenery is gorgeous, and I always feel submersed in the films rich jungle setting. More to the point, I feel this film works as a good bridge for kids to transition from kid friendly fun to more adult adventures. I loved this movie back when I was a child, I still love it just as much as an adult. It’s certainly not for everyone, but I hope more people re-discover it over time.


I give Disney’s live action remake of “The Jungle Book” 4 ½ stars out of 5.