Everyone knows the story of The Jungle Book. Everyone has watched a small boy float down a river on the belly of an amiable bear, all whilst singing upbeat tunes. However, what most people don’t know is the darker side of the story. Netflix’s newest release, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, is far from the cartoon jollity of Disney’s 1967 version. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s a bad thing.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle follows Mowgli (obviously), an orphaned child who is taken in by a wolf pack after his mother is killed by the tiger, Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). He is educated by Bagheera (Christian Bale) and Baloo (Andy Serkis) as he navigates his way around the jungle as a man-cub.
As Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, it must be said that this was a sterling effort. With a stellar cast, and a different take on the original, Mowgli definitely has something to offer for most audiences.
As expected, motion-capture maestro Serkis used the technique in this movie also, which – although had nothing on the 2016 Jon Favreau remake – was a way of bringing a texture and life to each of the CGI characters. It made them look more human, which seemed to be exactly what Serkis wanted.
It must be commended that the actors themselves had to take on a much more challenging role with it being a motion-capture based movie. However, it didn’t disappoint, and having so many strong actors play such strong and recognisable parts really paid off. Within 15 minutes, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan had already surpassed Idris Elba’s, instilling an uncomfortable kind of fear. Bale’s Bagheera was authoritative, nuanced and charming, in an unconventional way. The focus on the characters themselves was a true strong point for the movie as a whole.
As you may have guessed from the title, however, this movie is not just about the animals. Mowgli himself feels more like a lead character in this movie, compared to being a plot device in the Disney original. The story focusses on his journey from being a man-cub, establishing his identity as somewhere between man and wolf. The actor, Rohan Chand, carries the film spectacularly, giving the impression that he genuinely may have been raised by wolves.
However, although the actors were good, the CGI was not. Sometimes, it’s like you’re looking at a real animal. Other times, it’s like you’re looking at a dog from Nintendogs. As much money as they had put into the movie, it felt unfinished in some parts, which genuinely detracted from the world it was trying to create.
Now, if you decide to watch this movie, please be warned that there is no music, nor any friendly, fun loving animals. Instead, there are evil monkeys who beat Baloo and Bagheera half to death, and a hunter who does some truly horrible things. Combine this with the graphic displays of Shere Khan’s victory killings, and you’ve got yourself a very dark take on Kipling’s classic.
Some people may think that this is wrong: those who are Disney purists probably can’t imagine the movie any other way. However, it works. It genuinely makes you consider the actions that each character is taking, and not a single character is completely good (apart from Bhoots, he is an angel). This stops the movie from being a flat remake of everything you’ve seen before, and brings texture to it. Otherwise, it’d just be boring.
Overall, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a new, but genuinely well written and made, version of a classic book. It’s dark, disturbing and even kind of gross in places, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the tale itself. Yes, the CGI is hit and miss, and maybe if a little bit more time had been spent on it, it would be improved. But as it is, this movie is pretty solid. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s one of the bear necessities to put this on your watchlist on Netflix but, despite the lack of songs, it’s definitely worth a watch.