Where does someone go after two critical failures and one financial failure? After Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau went and made his most personal film (and my favourite of his), Chef. It seems like after that, Favreau decided to go and make a “live action” version of The Jungle Book.
I put live action in quotations because, outside of the boy who plays Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), none of what’s in the movie is real. The movie was filmed in L.A., on a sound stage. Living in a world that is so nostalgic for the past and its use of practical effects (just look at the praise received by Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), you’ll want to eat your words after watching the trailer for The Jungle Book.
I understand the backlash following the announcement of this film (and every other Disney live-action adaptation), as I also wondered what the point would be when the originals are undeniable classics that so many children have grown up to, and continue to do so.
At this point last year, the track record for the live action remakes would not have shown any promise. Maleficent may have made money (700+ million), but the critics were of mixed opinion (49% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film before that, Alice in Wonderland, may have made over a billion dollars at the box office, but was arguably worse. Unfortunately (or fortunately), money is what matters, so Disney green lit a few more, and so Cinderella was released.
Cinderella (500+ million) made less money than Maleficent but was much more of a critical smash. I saw it a week after it came out, and it would go on to be a strong contender for one of my favourite films of the year. This was when Disney went and green lit many more adaptations, such as Beauty and The Beast (which has a cast that should excite anybody), Dumbo, Mulan, and the list will probably never end.
It was Cinderella that made me start thinking twice about all these adaptations. Sure, some of these films probably won’t turn out good (I’m frankly nervous for Dumbo, when considering how Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland turned out), but if every once in a while we get something with as much care and quality as Cinderella, it may just be worth it.
I think the other thing that excited me about The Jungle Book, even before the trailer came out, was Jon Favreau’s attachment. After two films that didn’t turn out as he wanted, he stepped out of the spotlight and looked at what worked and what didn’t in his films.
Favreau followed Cowbows and Aliens with Chef, which was a metaphor for his own career. Just swap out being a chef with being a director. Favreau’s character, Carl, returns to his roots and does something that is, not only creatively rewarding, but allows his worst critics to love him again because they can see the heart in his work once more.
Marvel and Favreau changed the cinematic landscape with Iron Man (the abundance of comic book films and shared universes may or may not be a good thing, but that’s a discussion for another time), and then he had a misstep or two, but eventually came back strong. I hope that this film secures him as a great filmmaker; not somebody who lucked into making something as great as Iron Man.