Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto
Welcome to the jungle.
Here we are again, the jungle from Rudyard Kipling’s mind. Escaping from the clutches of Disney (following the classic animated movie and Jon Favreau’s 2016 not-quite-live-action effort), Andy Serkis and The Imaginarium take on the much-loved tale and provide a different spin on things. Pushed back years to avoid a clash with Favreau’s interpretation, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle eventually found its home on Netflix – where movies go to flourish…or die.
It’s the same old story as we know before with small deviations along the way – Mowgli’s family still become Shere Khan’s supper, the young boy joins the wolves, the animals we know and love are all (sort of) there – there’s just no singing and dancing. What we get in this iteration is something a little…darker – 12A darker, mind – but there’s more dirt, grime, and blood here than there is in all of the other versions. That doesn’t, however, make this a more appealing or interesting movie because it’s GRITTIER (that filthy G-word). No, a tight script and interesting characters make that and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is lacking in a lot of aspects.
Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium is front and centre and, much like Favreau’s Disney jaunt, the visuals become the highlight of the movie. Unlike Favreau’s, however, the overall look of the movie really isn’t as impressive as it ought to be given Serkis’ huge talent within the field. Of course, it isn’t a bad looking movie but there’s something…off about how some of the animals come across – especially Baloo and Baghera (Kaa, for that matter, also just didn’t look great). The clash of tones between actual live cast and motion-capture was jarring as too was the script. It’s a strange script in that it seems to be too artless for the tone and atmosphere that Serkis was striving for – a ‘mature’ Jungle Book movie with a script that’s stuck in the kid-zone, it can either be one or the other.
Young Rohan Chand was given the mission of leading and carrying the movie and he is…OK. Many may disagree but the performance was fine, good moments splintered by some…not so good moments though I did buy him as Mowgli in other aspects. A voice cast including Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Naomie Harris, Jack Reynor, Tom Hollander and Andy Serkis sounds awesome! Oh, it’s such a shame that everything is so theatrical and overdone – and I’m looking at Blanchett as Kaa and Andy Serkis’ horrendous voice work with Baloo. Cumberbatch and Bale are fine in their contrasting roles, and Naomie Harris stands out amongst the rest, but some of the choices made really aren’t good. As well as roping in many of his old co-stars, Serkis has also taken plenty of cues from his mentor Peter Jackson - see some of the establishing shots and that introduction complete with ominous narration a la Jackson's Middle Earth saga.
Obviously, it’s not all bad. Shere Khan was presented well and the additional maturity does allow for some good action set-pieces and some stakes (of sorts). Having discussed tones, there is one moment in the movie that seemingly came out of nowhere relating to Mowgli’s Indian wolf cub buddy that may jolt some younger viewers and certainly wasn’t in the 1967 movie. With a runtime extremely similar to 2016’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli never outstays its welcome even in its more uninteresting moments and it didn’t need to be any longer.
Given the reception and success of 2016’s The Jungle Book and the initial proximity of release with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, comparisons were always going to be inevitable and, unfortunately, Favreau’s version comes out on top on pretty much every aspect. The decision from Warner Bros. to ‘give’ the movie to Netflix was a warning sign that now looks like a wise move. Mowgli isn’t the worst movie of the year, it’s just a mess tonally, script-wise and has some questionable decisions in regards to voice acting. If you want an alternative look to a familiar story, you’ll get it here but you may not be queuing Mowgli back up in your Netflix playlist to watch again in a hurry.
December 7th 2018