This is a guest post originally appeared on PlayingWriter.com
So you already saw the film and you know it’s very popular and praised by critics and viewers alike. Looking at the headline of this post, you probably think I’m crazy. “Whaaat? Did you find issues with this beautiful film? You’re just crazy and jealous. Go back to the jungle where you belong!”
Right. But I’ll say it again: this latest Jungle Book installment is so flawed it can’t compete for any place in my book. I don’t care about photo-realistic visuals – give me the gripping, entrancing story and believable characters I want to care for. And, well, that’s where this movie just can’t deliver.
It isn’t The Jungle Book review, though, I just want to learn something from my findings and figure out how to not make such mistakes in my stories. I believe this will be helpful for you too.
When a writer goes to the cinema, he sees not mind-blowing effects and CGI first, not good-looking actors and sexy actresses. A writer watches a movie differently: they are keen on a story, characters’ path from the beginning of the film to its end. A writer watches closely each and every step on this path, every crook and every choice. And if the path is linear and easy like a stroll in the park and the choices are hollow or false or just don’t matter at all, a writer could tell that this film is a failure. Even if it has the most beautiful picture to delight your eyes.
This story begins on one unbearably hot sunny day when drought has come not only to the jungle, where human cub named Mowgli was living, but to the writer and director’s heads. Once full and strong and rich, the river of creativity has run dry, leaving only a streamlet. And so the cracks started crawling the dry, scorched earth of The Jungle Book movie…
Baloo in this movie is kind of time-server and manipulator of the animal world. He takes advantage of the others just to fill his belly up. He makes a little boy work for himself, he doesn’t care the boy could easily slip from the rock or the bees could sting him to death. Moreover, Baloo tells Mowgli lies that these bees don’t sting, it’s all right, go ahead.
Then out of the blue Baloo starts to act nobly, and that’s my main issue with him. He leaves his pile of fresh sweet honey the boy got for him and offers to help him and give him a ride to the human village.
Seriously? What do you think? Does this behavior have any logic to it? Is it completely implied by the character’s traits and motivation?
For the love of Kipling, no! In good stories, characters have two main drives: to avoid danger and to get a treasure (speaking figuratively, of course). Like in real life. So Baloo, being such a manipulative and selfish bear, would never
- play a role of a good Samaritan and help the boy just out of the goodness of his heart while
- abandoning his precious treasure – fresh and tasty honey.
This crack could be patched up relatively easily if movie makers went for one of two options:
- Mowgli could ask Baloo for help and in return promised to get down all the honey from the rock, or
- Baloo could offer Mowgli a deal (which is totally in his manner): he would help the boy to travel to the human village, but first the boy would have to get down all the honey from the rock.
But why, or why The Jungle Book’s writer has chosen the easy way, taking advantage of a fast pace, and hasn’t given their characters any logic in their behavior? As Spock might’ve said, it’s only logical to write logical characters with believable motivations.
In the end, this first crack happened to be so deep that it gave birth to…
King Louie’s behavior is no less illogical and hard to believe, and I’m not even talking about his abrupt singing. He’s an orangutan (well, not exactly, but let’s just assume he is), but he’s a Bandar-log king as well, right? Kings usually are keen on luxury, and we see a lot of it in his ‘royal hall’: piles of food and piles of treasures. So we can be sure Louie is a pretty typical king who likes luxury as well as power.
But why then he destroys the whole monkey temple trying to catch a miserable boy? His Bandar-log army could do it better and faster, without tumbling down the temple. I mean, they did it before, remember?
I find two reasons why this scene is hard to believe.
As all kings, Louie is used to giving orders but not to execute them himself. He wouldn’t even have to raise his big hairy… hand and flick a finger. One short order – that would’ve been enough. And while his citizens were pursuing the boy, he would have been enjoying his papaya. Or his singing. But I’d rather papaya.
King Louie is actually living there! Nevertheless, he acts too impulsively and silly and completely destroys his only dwelling, his royal palace. Spock would agree with me:
Now tell me, what kind of king would do that? Kings are perfectly ready to give away their kingdom’s lands and their citizens’ lives if only it would help to secure their palace where they’re surrounded by luxury and comfort. But they would never destroy their palace with their own hands!
I also find it hard to believe how easily King Louie breaks down the stone walls and pillars of the monkey temple. Yes, he’s huge and terribly strong, but he’s still not King Kong.
I can see why it was done and I can close my eyes on this one. But what I can’t forgive is a dubious behavior of wolves which splits the whole film with a long…
There are moments in this new Jungle Book movie when wolves don’t look like wolves at all. And those moments are the key ones.
Remember the first scene Shere Khan appeared in? Akela fearlessly cuts off the tiger and tells him straight in the face that he won’t dare to trouble the peace of their domain. Here rules Akela, not Shere Khan. He came to the pond from foreign land and he ought to respect the local law.
That’s a nice part. The nice part ends here, though.
To my big surprise, when Shere Khan isn’t around, Akela and all the wolf pack act like a bunch of cowards. They gather on the rock discussing how it would be best for them to get rid of the human cub in an effort to find a way to eat the cake and have it at the same time. When Mowgli nobly decides to go away by his own will, only his wolf mother Raksha tries to stop him. But what does it matter? Akela is quick to agree with a boy’s decision (and that’s a little boy’s decision!) to venture out into the dangerous jungle. Akela would agree for everything if only the boy would be far off from the pack.
Let’s fast forward a bit. Mowgli has already left, Akela is lying on the rock, thinking everything will be fine now. Shere Khan freely approaches the rock and climbs up to Akela with no one to stop or at least warn him. Obviously, the tiger can walk where he wish, be it his domain or someone else’s. Wolves seem to be completely fine with it.
A short conversation follows. Akela is calm and tries to cajole the tiger. He got rid of the human cub so the tiger should be satisfied and the peace will follow. But the tiger can’t buy that – suddenly he leaps at Akela, snaps him and hurls off the rock.
It’s probably the most shocking scene of The Jungle Book. Such an abrupt and senseless violence in a seemingly kids-friendly movie. But what shocked me even more was the wolves’ reaction to Akela’s murder. All that Raksha does is just screaming “Akela!”, and that’s it. Wolves jump to their feet and start pacing to and fro with their tails between their legs and their muzzles lowered while Shere Khan is spouting his threats.
Can you believe that? That actual pack of wolves which leader has just been murdered before their very eyes, without any reason or fair fight whatsoever, will just stay there and do nothing to pay Shere Khan back? It was a terrible crime by all laws, the law of the jungle included. It was an unforgiven insult to their wolfish pride. But the whole pack is afraid of old, beaten up and scorched tiger? Seriously? The tiger they could have thrown down the rock if they all had attacked him at once. Can you believe that the leader’s mate is just listening to the threats of her cubs’ farther’s murderer and does nothing?
So much for the wolf’s oath recited solemnly and with a patriotism-inducing score in the background throughout all the movie by just about anybody: Mowgli, wolves, Baloo, Bagheera. “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Come on, that’s just nothing! Just very big words that in fact turn out to be tiny. This wolf pack here betrayed their own oath twice:
- when they forced their ‘wolf by the blood’, as they called him numerous times, to leave the pack (because Mowgli wouldn’t have gone away if it weren’t for the wolves’ council) and
- when they let Shere Khan to murder their leader and completely get away with it.
Now, considering all above mentioned, let’s remember how the wolves are usually presented in the movies and books. They are either noble animals that honor their pack and sometimes even help humans or on the other hand, they can be frightful and bloodthirsty beasts that kill anything, including humans. In any case, wolves aren’t depicted as cowards – we have other animals for that.
But Jon Favreau, the director of this new version of The Jungle Book, killed my faith in the law of the jungle, honor and nobleness. The noblest animals in his movie that either recite the oath, learn the oath or teach the oath, turn out to be windbags and cowards.
If I were in Mowgli’s moccasins, I wouldn’t try so desperately to become a part of their pack. In fact, King Louie’s offer seems to be more compelling. One one condition, though: that he won’t start singing again.
And when we’ve completely disappointed in so much talked about the law of the jungle, we see dry land split apart by…
There are times when the jungle looks vast (in the beginning) and other times when it looks small (in the end). It’s very handy for the director: when he wants to make the travel longer, the jungles have all kinds of obstacles and dangers at hand, like a ravine with earth slides, a long river, a tropical forest with gigantic snakes – I mean, just remember the whole Mowgli’s travel.
But when the movie is dashing to the hot finale, trying to keep up with Mowgli running with a torch, the jungles shrink to a small park and pave the hero’s journey with a shortest and easiest path. You almost can see a fluffy rug under his feet.
Aristotle with his unities of place, time and action is tossing and turning in his coffin. Perhaps that’s the cause of the…
Mowgli sets up a trap for Shere Khan using a dead tree. Now, dead means dry. And dry means easy to set fire on. And easy to set fire on means when everything is blazing around, this tree too has fire flower petals blossoming out and dancing (with a particular zeal).
But surprisingly, the director shows us not one body of flame on the driest tree in the jungle, while everything around it is red with fire. It’s too convenient for a human cub – and too unlikely.
This crack could be fixed in an instance, if only the director had put fire flowers here and there on the dead tree.
But no one cared enough to do that, and while the fire was raging around, tormented ground of The Jungle Book shuddered for the last time.
Crack six – KRRRRAM!
At this point, my dear readers and viewers of this film, a shower of flame bursts out of the fracture, and we see the picture falling to pieces.
We have one of the clumsiest climaxes ever: the boy has set fire to the jungle and endangered lives of so many animals, but suddenly, somehow he becomes a hero after acting very stupid, like Shere Khan fairly noted: he has thrown away his only weapon, the fire flower.
A couple moments before animals were so scared of Mowgli that they couldn’t meet his eyes and stepped back. But now they take his side and recite wolf’s oath. It’s particularly odd to watch Baloo participating in it. He is first to say the oath – the very same oath he mocked and called a propaganda a while ago. Each and every animal, including the bear and the panther, start to speak the wolf’s oath, and it looks utterly weird. I mean, it’s a wolf’s oath. Wolf’s, Carl!
But that’s not the worst part. This I can handle. But what I just can’t forgive the filmmakers is how easily Mowgli’s fatal mistake is forgotten. He brought the fire flower into the jungle and risked many lives. They didn’t show us the fire in too much detail, but we can clearly see it’s devastating enough: many trees and animals and birds and insects and whatnot perished in the flames. For this terrible, unforgivable mistake the law of the jungle has only one punishment: death.
But this mistake is not only unpunished, it’s even seemingly unnoticed and, what’s more, rewarded. After Shere Khan’s death, Bagheera the narrator proudly admits that he saw plenty of things and experienced a lot, but he would never forget that night (the night when many animals were dead and the jungles devastated, but the panther isn’t talking about that). It’s because the human cub managed to do a remarkable and never done before thing: he united all the animals and brought them to peace.
Right, that’s a fabulous way of making everybody friends: cause a calamity, kill the mutual enemy and then take a few elephants and change the river bed to put out a fire. No one thinks about the aftermath of such a huge disaster. And then nature will have to deal with the aftermath of the changed river bed. Yeah, live long and prosper, Mowgli and friends.
It’s surprising to me why no one notices the terrible outcome of Mowgli’s grave desire to take revenge on Shere Khan. If only he had listened to old wise Bagheera and traveled to the human village, all this wouldn’t have happened. Shere Khan would be furious and growling, but what he could do? The human cub would stop to annoy him with his scent, and that’s the thing here. The tiger would go back where he came from.
What is leaking out of the crack
This movie has some great and valuable messages weaved organically into the plot. An adult will surely notice them and a child will understand and remember thanks to the dynamic picture unfolding in front of their eyes.
The new Jungle Book teaches us to always be ourselves and not to try to become someone else just because someone thinks you should (Mowgli gets better at his tricks and helps Baloo to get honey. Mowgli heeds Bagheera’s advice and doesn’t throw himself into the fight with Shere Khan in the heat of the moment, but instead prepares a trap for him.)
Another valuable message is, you shouldn’t follow every rule blindly – sometimes you must break the rules to save someone’s life (Mowgli helps an elephant cub out of the pit). Isn’t it nice?
But the finale adds one more message, and this one isn’t as nearly nice: revenge at all costs. Mowgli doesn’t respect his mentor’s advice to travel to the human village and shouts he will avenge Akela’s death. Then he ventures forth to accomplish this stupid task and in the outcome he burns down the jungles and kills lots of living creatures.
Generally, a child (he is 6 by the looks, not more) who is shouting about revenge and who has something to take revenge for – this is a horrible and immensely sad thing. Such themes aren’t family friendly at all. They are suitable for a film about a war but not for a Disney film about animals which even sing occasionally.
The main issue of The Jungle Book
I have a feeling that the director Jon Favreau never decided who he produced this movie for, adults or children. As a result, we saw a super-realistic picture showing animals that very convincingly live and sing and as convincingly suffer, kill and die, too.
If it’s a kids’ or family movie, it has too much violence, and the main story arc (Mowgli is banished – Akela is murdered – Mowgli avenges Akela) would have to be rewritten. Otherwise, like it is now, it shows as Sin City with animals for bandits, corrupt cops, and harlots.
If Favreau’s target audience is adults, then… Then he never should have taken a part in it. Turning a classic Disney cartoon into super realistic animation/feature film about animals and a boy driven by revenge – it’s a strange idea. Not long ago we saw a movie about an adult driven by revenge. There was a bear too, but the main character was played by a fabulous DiCaprio rather than some unknown boy who overacted through the whole movie.
In conclusion, or The echoes of the cracks
This post wasn’t intended to be a movie review. It’s an effort to look at the flaws of the popular, celebrated movie and make sure you won’t do the same in your story.
Here I offered you details about 6 major cracks that destroy The Jungle Book movie for me. Some cracks are caused by the characters and their seemingly unmotivated and stupid actions, others are caused by the main conflict and how the scenes were built. Through them, you can see the flat cardboard scenery and worn-out walls of this strange theater.
It’s a mystery to me why studios continue to release such movies: beautiful picture, hole-ridden plot. Why the filmmakers don’t channel more of their resources into polishing their story until it shines – and even more so, has no holes in it? But I don’t fall to despair, what with other great movies released recently like fabulous Zootopia.
So what do you think? Do you agree with me on the issues with The Jungle Book or do I criticize the movie too severely? Or perhaps reading this post, you found that your story has similar flaws? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.
Author: Alex Kulaev
This is a guest post originally appeared on PlayingWriter.com