Disney Remake Double Bill

Remakes, eh? A genuine attempt to improve what has gone before? Or a cynical cash-in on existing stories by film-makers without an original thought in their heads? Let's look at some recent evidence from the House of Mouse....

Pete's Dragon (David Lowery, 2016) was a reasonably safe bet as a remake. The 1977 original ranks fairly low in the Disney back catalogue, so it was unlikely anyone was going to get too hot under the collar about a revamp. This new version is a solid job all round, with Robert Redford and Bruce Dallas Howard adding a bit of star power to proceedings. But the central story is all about Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his dragon, here reimagined as a large, furry puppy-dragon-chameleon creature who befriends the young boy when he gets lost in the forest. Can their friendship endure when pesky adults come nosing around? Well, this is Disney, don't forget. It's a sweet, if somewhat formulaic tale, but it certainly improves on the original.

Much more controversial was the decision to remake The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau, 2016), this time as a live-action version of Kipling's classic tale. "Is nothing sacred?" cried aghast fans of the 1967 classic animated original. "They better not fuck around with the songs!" So it comes as a pleasant surprise to find that the new version is really very good indeed. State of the art CGI has created a lush jungle environment and animals so realistic, the interaction of Neel Sethi (wonderful casting as Mowgli) with his virtual environment is never less than believable. On voice duties, Bill Murray (as laid-back bear Baloo) provides the laughs and a tidy rendition of The Bare Necessities, Ben Kingsley (as responsible panther Bagheera) the gravitas and Idris Elba (as the villainous tiger Shere Khan) the menace. And then there's Christopher Walken as King Louis, here presented as an immense Gigantopithecus instead of an orangutan, and modeled on Brando's Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. It's an inspired sequence, even more so when Walken lends his distinctive vocals to a brilliant version of I Wanna Be Like You. Yes, they did fuck around with the songs, as it turns out, but to very good effect indeed. In fact, with a stronger story, featuring a better balance of action, fun and suspense, this latest version may actually (whisper it) be better than the original. Who'd have thunk it?

Well ,well, seems remakes can actually be a good thing after all.  Now, let's hope they don't undo it all with the upcoming Beauty and The Beast. Watch this space...

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