Film Review The Jungle Book

In this image released by Disney, Mowgli, portrayed by Neel Sethi, center, and Raksha the wolf, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, appear in a scene from, “The Jungle Book.”

Associated Press

In the last two weeks, Disney confirmed it will produce two live-action remakes of favorite animated films.

Last week, Director Jon Favreau tweeted about working on a live-action version of “The Lion King,” and today, Disney confirmed “Mulan” is in the works for a Nov. 2, 2018 release date.

The most recent announcement was accompanied by the seemingly obvious announcement that the company was looking for a Chinese actress (though it’s sad they had to specifically mention that), and the earlier “Lion King” announcement was met with some skepticism since, well, there didn’t seem to be a point. All of the characters are animals, and the animated version stands well enough on its own.

I’m not altogether shocked by any of the news, especially since “Mulan” had been rumored earlier and given that Disney seems driven to produce live-action remakes of its classic movies.

I can’t fault a studio for making money, and these films have proven to make plenty of money despite not being all that good.

“Maleficent” opened with $69.4 million domestically and earned $241 million overall in the states (and a whopping $517 million overseas), and “Cinderella” had a similar opening weekend ($67.9 million) with a worldwide total of $543 million.

The fact that neither of these movies were particularly good didn’t seem to stop anyone from seeing them.

The only critically acclaimed movies to come out of this Disney trend were “Pete’s Dragon,” which did not do that well in theaters stateside ($74 total domestic box office), and “The Jungle Book,” which did phenomenally well ($103 million opening weekend and $966 million worldwide total).

The success of “The Jungle Book” is likely what earned Favreau “The Lion King” directorial seat, and certainly contributed to a sequel for the movie being greenlit.

While I can’t argue the scope of what “The Jungle Book” was able to do with its special effects, the other blockbuster movies have been somewhat lacking.

And that I credit to a lack of creativity.

“Maleficent” is a little different because it told a story that hadn’t been the focus previously, but these live-action remakes seem tethered to certain ideas and, especially certain costumes.

It’s hard to be wowed by Cinderella’s transformation when it looks too similar to the original.

There was nothing about “Cinderella” that made it unique or separated it from the animated feature. It told the same story with little deviation, and its side characters were the kind of caricatures that work in animation and fail spectacularly in live-action.

I imagine it would be difficult to do something too different since Disney owns both movies – the kind of restraint Marvel encounters when casting or writing stories from its movies based on the comics. And judging by some of the costumes (and admittedly some storylines) in “Once Upon a Time,” some things could be a lot worse in these live action movies.

However, when you look at what France did with its 2014 “Beauty and the Beast,” which was released in the United States in September, it’s also plain that the company and its directors could do a lot more in distancing themselves from the original animated films.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” live-action remake will be out in March with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as the title characters, and with plenty of A-list supporting vocal work from Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Sir Ian McKellen. And while some of the production designs have been released, it remains to be seen if this will be all that different from the animated movie.

I find it hard to drudge up enough interest in these live action versions when they promise nothing new. But with “The Little Mermaid” live-action version also on the way, I doubt I’ll see an end to this until Disney runs out of classic animated movies to be remade.

Although, by that time, I’m sure Disney will be moving on to its more recent animated movies with live-action versions of “Tangled” and “Frozen.”

What do you think of Disney's live-action remakes and its new line-up? Leave a comment in the comment section or email me at ncreason@cumberlink.com.

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