“Putting the Show Back in Chauvinist” : Battle of the Sexes

Battle-of-the-Sexes

“You know, I remember when the actual match happened,” an older woman told me as we walked out of the theater together. I threw away my popcorn as she reminisced, “At the time, I just thought it was a big show.”

The famous 1973 match between women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King and retired champion Bobby Riggs was set up as an elaborate publicity stunt, with parades, dancers, costumes, and sponsorships. But Battle of the Sexes reveals the more sinister elements going on underneath. Infidelity, repressed sexuality, addiction, and, of course, sexism.

Battle of the Sexes’ main plot might be the lead up to the match, but the topic that obviously interests the filmmakers more is Billie Jean’s affair with hairdresser Marilyn, her sexual awakening. I think people should know what movie they are going to see, so just keep that in mind.

What I found most interesting about it was, while it’s tastefully done, the film hides the negative aspects of the relationships. We do see the toll the affair takes on Billie Jean emotionally, and her husband Larry is portrayed as a great guy. But the film leaves out of its ending credits what ended up happening to the relationship (Marilyn sued Billie for palimony, outed Billie through the lawsuits, and Billie lost her sponsorships).

Whether you agree with the choices Billie Jean King made or not, not telling the truth about something seems suspicious on the part of the filmmakers. However, it’s also Hollywood, and to be expected. It just sets up an odd tonal shift with Billie tearing herself up about it one minute, then the next throwing Larry out and seemingly confident with her decision in the next. It’s like the filmmakers wanted to realistically show what a situation like that is like, but not in a way that could be interpreted as negative or disheartening.

All that said, this is the best performance I’ve seen Emma Stone give. She’s always been talented, of course, but here her role just allows her to be even more transformative. She’s not the La La Land actress, fantasy girl. She’s a flesh and blood woman. Her Billie Jean King is driven, focused, conflicted, but when it comes to the tennis match, is always the bigger person. She faces her opposition with grace and humility, but doesn’t hesitate to speak out. She’s a role model to many for a reason.

Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs with both over-the-top extravagance and subtle nuance. His Riggs is a showman, a con artist, and an actor. His brash and extremely sexist comments are almost laughable, and when you see how he really does seem to love his wife and family, he becomes likeable. His actions and comments are no longer as bad because he is so likable. He’s just doing publicity! Making headlines!

But that is what is just so sinister about it. When we like someone, we are less willing to critique them or call them out on something. Rigg’s sexism is so over-the-top and “playful” that it becomes normalized. It appears less harmful, although he’s preying on real attitudes. And the thing about sexism is that it isn’t just words. You don’t just hurt women’s feelings. Sexism is sinister because it is tangible. Words reflect thoughts, which is a person’s character, and eventual actions.

The things Riggs and some of the men in this movie say are scary because we almost don’t take them seriously. They are the “lovable misogynists,” and they validate men who want to do the same. There are many, many men in power who have used their lovableness and “cluelessness” to allow them to say, and then do, horrible things. It doesn’t matter that Bobby Riggs may not mean it, or his wife loves him or he’s a good dad or whatever. “Boys will be boys,” “It’s just locker room talk,” are excuses. It wasn’t appropriate then, and it doesn’t become less appropriate just because one representative woman “proved the worth” of all womankind.

There was one thing I felt missing as I walked away from Battle of the Sexes. I never got a strong establishment of the time period. Outside of tennis, what was sexism like in the wider American culture? How did people perceive the famous match? Did it really make any difference to women outside of sports? What did it mean to have one woman represent all women? Did Billie Jean King feel that burden going forwards? The film doesn’t answer any of those questions, leaving the impression that it isn’t nearly as interested in that subject as it is in its main protagonist and her love affair.

Making the main angle Billie Jean’s personal story is a good choice, though, because the typical sports story about overcoming adversity and winning has been done. That happens here, but it’s short and sweet at the end, and isn’t really the point. Winning the match for women is here, and it’s important, but by making the focus even narrower, a woman’s tumultuous time in her life, winning the match becomes bigger. It’s a matter of life and death for Billie Jean’s soul.

With those kind of stakes, it’s way more than just a show.

-Madeleine D

Advertisements

Thanks, Dad : The Glass Castle

TGC_D40-4817.raf

*Light spoilers ahead

I’m going to be honest. If there is one trope I don’t get tired of, it’s the crazy father trope. I love it in my books, I love it in my movies, and it’s nothing new in our culture. All the best villains and heroes have daddy issues (Luke, I am your father, anyone?). I’ve always found the trope fascinating. Maybe because of its insight into human psychology and how Freudian it can be. Maybe because it feels so removed from me personally, as I have a wonderful father who loves me enough to edit this review. Either way, it’s always been intriguing.

But this film with its eccentric father isn’t dealing with fiction. This is real life. Based on Jeannette Wall’s memoir of the same name about her tumultuous childhood under an alcoholic father and neglectful mother, The Glass Castle juggles tragedy wrapped up in childhood innocence. Hearing a story like that is a reminder that this archetype has roots in very real, dark places.

Something I admired when I read Wall’s memoir was the matter-of-factness the book had. When describing her childhood, Walls never indulged in sentimentality or despair. Instead, she told the events through the eyes of her childhood self. Traumatic events were sometimes viewed as exciting adventures when framed to her by her father. The realization of how abusive her situation was came later. Walls never diminished what happened, but instead put it into perspective. It was clear to me while reading that Walls never let her upbringing become excuses, which is very admirable.

There is that quality in this film, too, until the end. Up until then, the scenes of Walls’ childhood play out with a lack of exploitation. When her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) explains to Jeanette (played as a child by Ella Anderson and Chandler Head, played as an adult by Brie Larson) that sneaking out of a hospital is an exciting adventure, there is playful music because that is how child Jeanette is perceiving it. When an older Jeanette realizes her father stole her college money, the scene is darker and the music is gone, because Jeanette has matured enough to understand the true situation. Any reflections on the events take place in the adult-Jeanette scenes, which is how the memoir is written. I liked how the story, for the most part, let it speak for itself. It would be very tempting to do the opposite, especially in a story like this that deals with children.

All of this subtlety falters near the end, though, when director and co-screenwriter Destin Daniel Cretton gets antsy and decides the audience can’t figure out the metaphors for themselves. Brie Larson is saddled with having to explain the glass castle metaphor from the title, the similarities between Jeanette and Rex, the strengths of the family, the power of forgiveness, the complexities of fatherhood, and so on. It’s a shame, because I think the movie does such a good job letting the story find its own significance and importance, without having to assert it in a preachy manner.

The performances elevate the script, though, and Brie Larson and the rest of the cast are up to the task of the more heavy-handed moments. I haven’t seen Room, so I finally got to see Ms. Larson and how good of an actress she is. I’m definitely ready for her to play Captain Marvel.

Woody Harrelson is the other star, though, and he is phenomenal. There are a lot of times he could have chewed scenery and done very Woody Harrelson-y things, but he never does. He dances between manic and sober, enlightening and pessimistic in every scene, but it never rings false. His unpredictability keeps the film and the audience on their toes, making the story feel even more real. The child actors also are all fantastic.

The ending aside, whether you learn the story of the Walls family through the excellent memoir or the good film, it’s still a story worth taking to heart. It is a discussion of nature versus nurture, the importance of parents and their influence, the resilience of children, and the ultimate power of hope and forgiveness. It is also a reminder that earthly fathers may fail, but there is one who does not.

-Madeleine D

Let’s Put on a Show: Sing

sing-movie

Buster Moon. Showman. Owner of the grandest theater in town. Suave businessman. Charmer. Koala Bear, in this land of anthropomorphic animals.

Also, broke.

After a string of misfires and bad shows, Buster Moon (voiced by an admirably passionate Matthew McConaughey) only has one more chance to save his theater. He’ll do anything necessary to pull off his wild, crazy, totally unique idea.

A singing competition! You aren’t sick of those yet, are you? I didn’t think I would be when I sat down to watch Sing. Okay, maybe a little. I stopped watching “American Idol” and “The Voice” long ago. But I’m a fan of Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind Despicable Me and this year’s earlier The Secret Life of Pets. The trailers looked cute, the cast looked promising, and I was sure a good studio like this one could elevate the concept.

Sing, in its defense, is heartfelt. As heartfelt as a movie that pushes every successful, money-making kids movie button it could press can be. The cast (a lot of them unrecognizable in their voice roles) especially put a lot of effort into it, and I have no doubt director Garth Jennings poured his heart into the film. It simply cannot escape one thing: it always stoops to the lowest common denominator.

When discussing pop music on the radio once, my mom told me that most songs talk about love and sex and romance because they are the things everyone has in common. Mass appeal.  A good artist can elevate those concepts. Bad artists just talk about them in unoriginal, common ways.

Sing is like its unoriginal soundtrack, full of the most over-used and basic songs you could possibly choose for its audience. It always chooses the least original way out. Need a gag for not really any reason? Fart joke. Need to make it obvious who is a girl and who is a boy in these animal animated movies? Sexualization of cartoon animals, check. Need to pack as many songs in for promotional appeal? Skim through that playlist like you’re David Ayer editing Suicide Squad. Need rational explanation for events? Don’t bother! It never reaches for anything higher, and never pushes itself to be funnier or nicer or more well animated or better in anything.

Sing is not the first movie to do this, of course. Some of my favorite animated movies have some of these problems. But this one especially disappoints, because I hoped this film would be better, and it includes all of these elements without much to redeem it.

That said, it isn’t devoid of funny moments. It has nice messages about working hard and enjoying being a performer because you love it, not for the glory or fame. If you take little kids to see it (and that’s about the only audience who will really love it, unless you’re raising young movie reviewers, in which case, congratulations! And they’ll probably be unimpressed too), they could learn some good things. Having a conversation afterwards about talent and doing things that scare you would be a good use of time.

“You know the great thing about hitting rock bottom?” Buster Moon asks his assistant, Miss Crawley (director Garth Jennings), during the film. He stands on a stage prop- a big crescent moon- and it ascends upwards. “The only place to go… is up!”

Sing however, never lifts off the ground

-Madeleine D

Quiet People Doing Extraordinary Things: Loving

loving

The climactic scene of Loving is divided between two locations. One is the Supreme Court, where the future of interracial marriage lies in the landmark case of Virginia vs Loving. The second location is a farm, where Mildred Loving, a black woman, watches her husband, Richard Loving, a white man, play with their two children in the yard. She gets a call from their lawyers. They won. Mildred nods, hangs up, and smiles at her husband. He nods, and goes back to playing with the kids.

And that’s all folks. They win. Interracial marriage is legal in the United States. The Loving family can continue their daily lives, just with less fear.

If that climax sounds less-than-exciting to you, keep in mind before you see Loving that that is how the whole movie plays. It is an unbelievably calm, restrained, and polite film. Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) never get angry with each other or their circumstances. They go through their entire ordeal with humility and quiet conviction. Director Jeff Nichols refuses to craft an Oscar drama. He creates one that reflects the nature of the Lovings themselves. Richard Loving states in the film, “Tell the judge I love my wife.” He doesn’t want to go to court. He doesn’t want to make a statement. He just loves his wife. Loving doesn’t make itself into a statement. It presents itself as just a slice of life, albeit with extraordinary implications.

There is a difference between restraint and boring though, and how Loving walks that line is still up for debate. I think one of the year’s best examples of restraint is this Fall’s Southside With You, about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. That was a film that could have easily gone for Oscar bait with huge speeches, big statements on politics and the state of America today, and unrealistically canny foreshadowing. Yet Southside With You chooses to serve its story rather than its makers.

So what does that make Loving? I think it depends. I personally don’t think this story is a good fit for a movie. It is certainly important, and everyone should know about the Lovings. But you could cover all the material given here with a podcast, a Wikipedia page read, or even the trailer for this film. There is very little meat here.

The lack of meat in the film is replaced with elements that may be very appealing to some. It’s an actor’s film through and through, with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton giving Oscar-worthy performances. They don’t play particularly interesting people, but they play them with an admirable amount of naturalness.

Honestly though, there isn’t much else. The film has what we’ve come to expect- nice cinematography, a serving score, a feel of deep authenticity in its historical setting. But if you know the story, and don’t care to watch intense faces for two hours, Loving isn’t going to be your movie. Truthfully, it wasn’t mine. I appreciate the film for what it is, and for not falling into all the traps it could have. I just wished I had walked out of the theater, pumping my fist in the air, yelling “Yes! They did it!”

The film didn’t need to be cliched or loud to do that. It just needed to make sure the stakes were clear and to show the real injustices the Lovings (and couples like them) faced. But, when the worst punishment shown in the film is them being jailed for a few nights, I didn’t get the feeling of, “This is an unjust problem that needs to be solved right away.” I never felt anxious for them or their situation.

The film does a wonderful job of portraying who the Lovings were. But then it takes it a step too far and becomes the Lovings. It reminds me why not a lot of movies are made about introverts. It doesn’t matter how powerful those closeups of intense expressions are. It doesn’t matter how wonderful they are as role models, with Mildred Loving’s inner strength and determination and Richard Loving’s quiet conviction. Quiet people simply do not have the onscreen charisma we are used to to entertain us. And I say this all as an introvert. A movie about me would not be entertaining in the least.

So, do make movies about important people, introverted or not. But do not make an introverted movie if it doesn’t have more to say. Loving is sensitive and sweet, but isn’t able to transfer the love on screen to the audience.

-Madeleine D

How to Not Make A Disney Movie: Kubo and the Two Strings

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

kubo_and_the_two_strings

2016 has been a spectacular year for animated movies. Not really for anything else, but animation is at least on a roll. The year started off with Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia, and has recently had strong entries like Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets. Later this year will be Moana, Sing, and Storks, which all look solid to me.

Now, along comes Kubo and the Two Strings, which I went into cold. I usually do research beforehand on all the movies I see (i.e, watch trailers, research the studio and talent names, etc.). With Kubo, all I knew was that it was from Laika entertainment, and starred Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road’s Furiosa!).

I was a little nervous because so far I haven’t loved any of Laika’s stuff. Laika is the only studio right now doing stop-motion films. They are known for being dark, creepy, and very artistic. Laika is the Martin Scorsese of animated movies. Everyone respects them, they always get nominated, but Pixar always wins anyway.

So, in a year of great animated movies, will Kubo and the Two Strings ruin the streak of coming in #2? Or will it represent proudly and possibly win Best Animated Oscar?

Kubo and the Two Strings begins with Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), a young boy who had his left eye taken from him by the Moon King, his grandfather, in an act of revenge against Kubo’s parents. His father was lost, and now Kubo spends his days taking care of his sickly mother. She warns him to never go out after dark, or the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) will be able to see him and take his other eye.

One day Kubo sees the people of his village celebrating their ancestors and praying to them. He goes with the group to a river and makes his own monument for his father, and tries praying to it. He doesn’t get a response, and starts to go home angry, when he suddenly realizes it is after dark. The Sisters (Rooney Mara), henchmen of the Moon King, attack Kubo. His mother comes to save him, giving up her life, and telling Kubo to go find a suit of armor that will protect him. He is joined on his quest by Monkey (Charlize Theron), whom his mother sends to guide him, and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who used to serve Kubo’s father.

Right off the bat, the film warns you it is going to be dark, and it is not going to take its themes of death and loss lightly. In just this short intro, two people have died, and a child has had his eye removed. This is not a little-kids film, the deaths portrayed being more Grimm Brothers than Disney. There was some crying in my theater. I went with my family and two elementary school kids, and both talked about how scary the film was afterwards. I myself was a little freaked out by the villains in this film. Laika doesn’t mess around. That is what makes it work so well.

Speaking of Disney, there are some things I really appreciate about this film that I wish Disney (representing all mainstream animation) would take notes on. To be clear, I enjoy Disney movies, they’re some of my favorites. But, I also have a lot of beef with them as a studio and the formulas I see emerging in their newest movies (impress me, Moana). Here is a film that does anti-Disney so well, and it works wonders.

What Kubo and The Two Strings does that no other animated movie so far this year has done:

  • Some of the most breathtaking, painstakingly detailed animation that I have ever seen. I saw this film in 2D, yet it felt 3D with its textures, colors, and worldbuilding.
  • The quiet moments. Films this year have had a few quiet moments, scenes that focused on worldbuilding, character development, and mythology more than action or comedy, but not many. Kubo takes every opportunity to sit the characters down and have them talk, banter, and share stories.
  • A plot with stakes. A plot that lets people die, doesn’t give us boring fake-outs, and one that commits to its premise.
  • Save for Finding Dory, it is one of the most family-affirming films of the year, and shows how we all need parents and/or mentors in our lives.
  • Despite some of its Eastern-religious themes, the film explores how we relate to the dead, and the people (God) put in our lives to guide us.
  • Every. Single. Action. Sequence is memorable. They are all different, they all use their locations creatively, reveal character, and advance the plot.
  • A beautiful use of score.
  • It made me feel the feels without manipulating my emotions.

Besides the breathtaking animation (describing it here doesn’t do it justice), the voice acting is a highlight. Charlize Theron brings a sweet, yet fierce, wit that really works in the film. I loved every second her character was on screen, and the emotion portrayed with her voice. Matthew McConaughey gives it his all, and while at first I was apprehensive of his character, I grew to like him more and more. However, his very-American country twang sounds out of place sometimes more than others, but I appreciated the energy and enthusiasm in the performance. Art Parkinson, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes all do admirable work too as their respective characters. Maybe one day we’ll get Japanese voice actors to play Japanese characters, but since this is animation and the cast does a fine job, I’ll let it slide.

I can’t recommend Kubo and The Two Strings enough. Suicide Squad got you down? Remakes making you bored? Want to see something different? This film will do the trick.

-Madeleine D

Ghostbusters (2016): It’s Not Bad For The Reasons You Think It’s Bad

For this review, I’m going to steal the IO9 format for reviews, a Q&A Style.

So you saw Ghostbusters

Yep.

First off, have you seen the original? Because that one is the best.

I watched it right before I saw the new one. And… well, to be honest, I didn’t love it.

*gasp*

I’m sorry. I know, blasphemy. I thought it was fine. Billy Murray was great. It was creative, and should be appreciated for being one of the first of its kind. But I wasn’t in love. The film uses tropes, silly effects, some lame jokes, and the world-building and setting up of the story is rushed or nonexistent. Maybe I can’t appreciate it as much because I don’t have the nostalgia factor, but it just didn’t grab my attention.

ghostbusters

Fine, it’s your opinion. I heard there was some craziness surrounding this movie before it was even released. My feed blew up with angry tweets, and didn’t Leslie Jones just make the news for something twitter-related?

You’re right, it was crazy. The minute Sony announced they were going to reboot the beloved franchise with an all-new female team, the internet went beserk. Suddenly, these well-liked actresses where the four horseman of the apocalypse, about to wipe every man off the face of the earth with their feminazi ideas and girl power. Suddenly the original was a modern Citizen Kane, and must be protected at all costs. This movie is a specific attack on everything America stands for! Women? They can’t be funny or keep our interest! They don’t need to be represented. They’re only 50 percent of the population and movie-going audience! Where’s my eighth Batman reboot?

You sound bitter.

I am. Here’s the thing. Women have had to put up with being the sexy secretary or girlfriend in movies for years. Rarely are they the main heroes. So Hollywood decided, hey, let’s see if doing the exact opposite, making only women the heroes and the men the sexy secretaries and boyfriend, will work. So now we’ve gone from 0-100. The ideal situation would be if there were male and female ghostbusters. But I’m not surprised Hollywood can’t do middle ground yet. I think if this movie worked, then it would be a step in the right direction to getting that balance.

So… did the movie work? Are we going to see more female-only franchises?

I don’t think we’ll see any more female-only franchise for a while, because the movie didn’t work and it isn’t making enough money.

So you didn’t like it. Is it preachy? Is it all about girl-power?

Not at all. The problem is that it is a really bland movie. It is not spectacularly funny, or even a good action film. It doesn’t make any real points about women, and while it caters to the female gaze for a change, it doesn’t make men feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t do much of anything.

Then why is everyone overreacting so much? A lot of people seemed threatened by the very existence of this film.

Any man with any amount of skin will be able to get over this movie. There’s maybe one or two jokes aimed at men, but none of them are malicious or preachy. The whole movie is so bad and nonthreatening, that it really does look silly in hindsight that anyone got upset about it. The 1984 original still exists. Go watch that if this one makes you sad.

So does the fact that the movie was bad mean that women really aren’t as funny as-

Stop right there. No.

But-

The truth is, because there are so few female-centric franchises and movies, it means every time one comes out it has to represent the whole female population, which is ridiculous. (And this doesn’t just go for lady-movies, but also any film centered around people of color.) No movie should have to bear that kind of weight. Yes, this movie wasn’t good. But most recent reboots aren’t, and that is where the problem lies, not in its on-screen talent.

Why does the movie suck then?

Before you reboot a franchise, you need to ask yourself (if you consider yourself an artist and not just a money-hungry Hollywood exec), Why am I rebooting this? What am I going to add to this brand? What will I change? What am I trying to achieve? Apparently, Sony and director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) did not ask themselves these questions. I think the creative meeting went something like this:

Sony Exec #1- We want to jump on the 80’s reboot train. Let’s remake Ghostbusters.

Paul Feig: Okay. As an artist, I want to know how we’ll make it different.

Sony Exec #2- I heard Frozen and The Hunger Games are doing good. Those star girls.

Paul Feig- Ohh, I like it. I’ve directed several great female-led comedies. This could be a creative, unique choice! Now let’s discuss what else we’ll change-

Sony Exec #1- Eh, we’ll finish this meeting later.

(after Sony announces the reboot, and the internet presses the self-destruction button)

Sony Exec #1- (holding a bottle of wine) So…. that went badly. (chugs)

Paul Feig- We can solve this. We just need to make this a really good movie.

Sony Exec #2- No! We need to make a generic, almost scene-by-scene remake of the original and play it safe.

Paul Feig- But-

Sony Exec #1 and #2- (still drinking) NO!

That’s more or less what happened.

The movie is a scene-by-scene remake?

Basically. All the original plot points are there. The only big difference between the two films, besides the gender-swapping of all the characters, is the absence of a Sigourney Weaver/Dana character and instead the villain is just an angry little man who creates ghosts and possesses people.

So yes, it lacks in plot. The original wasn’t much more than an extended SNL skit to be fair. However, the first at least has some funny moments. The new one has a few jokes that made me grin, but most of the time I groaned. Considering the talent involved- Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth (who really should be cast in more comedic roles) somehow aren’t able to elevate the material… or make better material. The film seems like a lot of the jokes were originally improvised, but were only funny on set and no one checked if they translated to the film well.

Is it true that Leslie Jones’s character was a racist stereotype?

I’m not the leading authority on that. I would suggest checking out other reviews by African-American film critics to really decide. However, I would say that Leslie Jones has branded herself with the “big, sassy, and loud black woman” type of humor. She’s been doing it on SNL for a while now, so it’s not surprising her role is written that way. It is a stereotype, and some people might think that is racist. However, it does not at all excuse the racist hate she was shown on Twitter. For what it’s worth, the group I went to see the movie with all enjoyed her performance, singling her out with Kate McKinnon as their favorite parts of the film. I thought she came off as very likeable, along with the rest of the cast.

Okay, the cast is likeable. Are there any other positives?

As a female viewer, there were little things here and there that really struck me as normal. Completely and utterly normal. There was very little “cool factor” here. These were real women doing real women stuff (in addition to, you know, busting ghosts). The fact that that stood out to me is a commentary itself on movies today. This film is also more family friendly (although it is still rated PG-13, so not for young kids). It doesn’t have all the sexual innuendo of the original. And like I said, there were some good jokes and ideas put forth. It just overall didn’t do anything for the Ghostbusters brand. Nothing was really added. No new developments were made.

Should I see it?

It’s not a must see, and I can’t really recommend it as good entertainment or even a fun movie. However, I think if you have young girls and you want them to see role models in movies, this could be a good choice. Even though the movie isn’t great, I hope I see some little kids dressed as ghostbusters for Halloween. That will make it worth it.

-Madeleine D

THE JUNGLE BOOK

I remember watching the original 1967 Jungle Book when I was a kid. I’m not sure how many times I watched it, but I have vague memories ingrained in my head of sitting on the couch, watching Mowgli’s adventures. I had a complicated relationship with the movie to say the least. I adored Baloo, was terrified of the monkeys, and loved the songs. On the other hand, I thought King Louie was weird, Shere Khan never struck me as a scary villain, but Kaa was terrifying. The vultures had funny accents, and the girl seducing Mowgli at the end was weird.

But I remember the movie vividly, so when I saw the commercials for the new Jungle Book (2016), I was not impressed. Where was the fun? Where was the color and singing and personality?

The-Jungle-Book-movie-poster

Then some of my favorite reviewers started raving about the film. It quickly became one of my top anticipated movies of the year. And that’s how I found myself sitting with my sister and friend in the theater the Friday it opened, waiting expectantly for an engrossing experience, as the critics had promised. Maybe I could replace my fuzzy childhood memories with a new, fresh one.

The plot of The Jungle Book is simple enough. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a human child who is found in an Indian jungle by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera gives Mowgli to a pack of wolves to be raised. When Mowgli is older though, a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) swears to kill Mowgli, prompting Bagheera to take Mowgli to the man-village. However, their mission is interrupted by the cast of colorful characters they meet along the way.

When I started watching the film, it took me a while to get used to the hyper-realistic CGI used. It reminded me of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which has photo-realistic scenery, and cartoony characters. That serviced the story well, and I liked it a lot. Here, I think the difference was because I knew in my head everything was fake, and that the one flesh and blood actor there was interacting with green screen. It messed with how I viewed the way the characters, scenery, and actor interacted.

But, after a few minutes, I got used to it. The visual effects truly are masterful, and I think worthy of some technical Oscar nominations. And the fact that Neel Sethi was able to act so well with nothing, just increases my respect for him.

In fact, the whole cast was wonderful. I especially enjoyed Bill Murray (hilarious as always) as Baloo and Ben Kingsley (I want Ben Kingsley to narrate my life). I also really liked Christopher Walken as King Louie and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba I also thought were really solid. In fact, the only cast I am more excited about than this cast is the one for Andy Serkis’ upcoming Jungle Book: Origins (2018) with Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, and Christian Bale.

THE JUNGLE BOOK
THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Jungle Book is very respectful to its source material, and is a pretty straightforward retelling except for a few changes. These changes overall help make a more coherent plot, which I appreciated. The acting was wonderful, the story solid, and effects were great. I was engaged throughout the whole movie. I think it will appeal to both kids and adults, although there are some moments that are too intense for young children.

But as I left the theater, something was nagging at me. Finally I was able to put my finger on it.

This Jungle Book just isn’t as much fun. It had funny moments for sure. But there is a distinct lack of personality in comparison to the original. The original was stylish. It had energy and heart. This Jungle Book has heart, but instead of proclaiming it in a loud voice, it says it in a whisper. The obligatory, half-hearted performance of the two famous songs “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” have none of the pizzaz of the original.

So The Jungle Book is a solid film, full of good things. But there is nothing great, nothing that will stick in your memory. I hope future Disney live action remakes will make sure to infuse more style and personality to their movies, because for now, I’m going to stick with my memories of seeing the original.

-Madeleine D