Jungle Book and the Digital Divide

I saw the new Jungle Book.  It is a solid film, but one issue really sticks with me.

Several flaws are obvious: the musical numbers are forced-in and tonally jarring, its remake premise sucks out much of the excitement, and the animals would simply look ten times better if their voices were essentially telepathy instead of having mouths meant for crushing throats or unhinging their jaws flap all over the place.  

Add to that the annoying way they colored Baloo, supposedly a sloth bear, like a grizzly.  I imagine that was to avoid confusing the dumber people of the world, something you should rarely bother to do.

One deeper flaw  permeates the film.  The special effects used to bring the animals to life are pretty stupendous; there were a few moments when one of the animals was standing still that it was actually difficult to tell apart from a live version.  It’s less difficult when they’re in motion, but that’s a natural limitation.  The problem… is Mowgli.

I don’t mean the actor, he does fine work.  I mean his nature as a flesh and blood human being.  One of the least convincing shots in the film has him holding onto his wolf-mother.  Try as they might, his fingers against the digital fur are extremely jarring.  She’s not a noble maternal predator who took in a foreign child; she’s smoke, lights, and code.

Hollywood needs to admit that it can’t animate humans and existing animals in a convincing manner alongside live footage.  They just can’t.  Not yet anyway…  The artistic solution, devoid of any marketing or business interests, is obvious: divide what is digital.  I’m not talking about films where the effects are bringing things that don’t exist to life or that only use the effects for brief frenetic flashes.  I’m talking about the fluid mixing of the two worlds that isn’t as fluid as they pretend it is.

Simply put, movies like Jungle Book would be better without live humans for comparison.  While I would’ve rather seen a new ‘dark animal drama’ than Jungle Book again (I’m convinced that could be a whole genre of its own), if I have to get a new one like this I would prefer they admit the limits of their aesthetic.  When something is 95% digital and most of the talent is in the keystrokes and mouse swishes, just go the distance and make an animated film.  It’s okay.  The world will accept it!

One of these days (possibly after people notice how the upcoming Pete’s Dragon just doesn’t work), when there’s no uncanny valley (since the valley will be devoid of people), it will be more obvious.  Until then all  I can do is ask people and artists to actually look at the films and see what doesn’t belong.

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2 thoughts on “Jungle Book and the Digital Divide

  1. Oh my gosh, YES! Thank you for the bit about the forced musical numbers! They were mildly fun but totally ruined the overall tone of the movie. I thought the film overall was just way too weird to work.

    Liked by 1 person

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