I say this out loud, albeit in a tiny mouse whisper, upon arriving at the cinema to find a packed pen of trendy “influencers” circulating slowly around the champagne table. This is an advance screening of The Jungle Book for the super special cool kids of London and I am technically a plus-one, although I must look to them like I’d just won a prize to spend an evening with the “normals” above ground.
My partner spots a friend, who also has a plus-one on her arm. Hey this guy is like me! He has a receding hairline and a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, it’s like looking in a mirror. And we’re both clearly out of our comfort zones, hanging off the arms of our beautiful partners like bizarro trophy wives.
We sit down together as our other halves rush off in the misguided pursuit of popcorn. My heart sinks again, oh no, 3D glasses, I’m going to have to watch a film in 3D. Wait a minute, this could be a good thing! This will give me something to talk about with this human male I’m sitting next to.
OK talking, joking. I can do this, I can be a person.
I turn to him and say; “Ha ha so 3D, what a bummer am I right” textbook.
“I don’t care”
“I know but… 3D is bad though, right?”
“I don’t care about 3D. I don’t care about The Jungle Book.”
“OK… Ha ha you’re just here for the wife then, yeah?”
“I do these things so that I can continue to have sex with my wife, yes. You know what I mean, right?”
“Oh yeah totally.” No, I want to watch The Jungle Book, a children’s film for children.
Oh God why did I think I could do this.
He turns to me and says; “Hey we’ve met before.”
There’s no way that can be true.
“Oh… No I don’t-”
“Yes we have, I’ve been to your home. My wife has saved every picture and video of your dog on her phone.”
“Oh that’s nice.”
“I don’t know. I guess she didn’t have a dog when she was a kid.”
“That’s… Exactly right.”
You can usually work backwards with these things. I’m doing better now. This is a real conversation. I’m doing it!
“Um, so what do you do?”
“I’m an accountant”
“Oh a real job OK” oh shit.
“What do you do?”
“Uhhhh- oh the movie is starting!”
Our partners return just in time. The movie starts. But it takes me a little while to get used to the huge CGI animal monsters inexplicably voiced by celebs like Bill Murray and Idris Elba.
In case you’re wondering, you can tell immediately that nothing is real. OK the boy (Neel Sethi) is real. Everything else is fake. But they go on acting like they’re real, the frauds. But it’s fine, you get used to the fakeness. And the world that is presented in The Jungle Book is kind of wrong and scary anyway, especially as the stranger sat next to me accidentally touched my arm at one point, which put me on edge for the whole film.
I spend the first twenty minutes thinking ‘animals shouldn’t talk. It’s just not right. It’s not right.’ Plus the seat reclines back too much, it’s bad, I need structure, I feel like I’m floating in a nightmarescape populated by- oh God and now the animals are shouting at me. Why are they so angry, isn’t this supposed to be a jolly jazz-fuelled romp in the jungle?
But this new darker, action-packed approach works somehow. The film bounces along confidently, playing on audience expectations and introducing the key players – Bagheera, Shere Khan, Baloo – in a way that feels refreshingly organic. It’s nice to watch a film that trusts you to follow along without over-explaining anything or delving into tiresome origin stories. There’s a boy in a jungle and all his mates are animals, we get it, let’s move on.
Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is legit scary, but we’re still on safe, conventional ground until the big snake, Kaa, turns up and things get weird. The horror of that scene is only heightened by the inescapable realisation that being eaten alive by a giant snake voiced by Scarlett Johansson is definitely – definitely – someone’s life-consuming fetish.
And then fucking Christopher Walken’s King Louie shows up as a cross between Vito Corleone and Colonel Kurtz and he’s the scariest thing in the film. Why is he so big? Why is he singing? Why is he making Mowgli an offer he can’t refuse?
Animals shouldn’t talk. it’s wrong.
But anyway, I know what you’re thinking. Is it good? Is the film good? Is The Jungle Book KING of the swingers? Or is it BEARly necessary? Ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ha hahI’m a garbage person I’m a garbage person I shouldn’t be allowed out. I can’t remember if I say goodbye to my new friend, I’m too busy not making eye contact with anyone in the cinema as I walk a little too quickly out of the building. I’m the fraud aren’t I, I’m the CGI animal monster, yes, yes, it all makes perfect sense now.