“Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” stars Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Matthew Rhys, and Freida Pinto. Released in limited theaters on November 29, 2018 and on Netflix on December 7, 2018, the film is about a human boy who seeks his own origin.
The film is directed by Andy Serkis, who made his directorial debut with the 2017 drama “Breathe”, and it is based on All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Two years ago, Disney released a live-action remake of one of their animated classics, “The Jungle Book”, which was met with unanimous praise from critics and audiences and became a massive box office success. But that wasn’t the only “Jungle Book” movie that was slated for that year. That’s right, there’s yet another film version of “The Jungle Book”, one that doesn’t involve singing animals and sticks more closely to the source material. Originally titled “Jungle Book: Origins”, the film was supposed to be released in October 2016, but was shifted numerous times to put more space between itself and the Disney live-action version. Later on, Warner Brothers (the film’s distributer) decided to sell the rights to Netflix in order to avoid losing money when it bombs in theaters, a problem that occurred when another Warner Brothers release, “Pan”, was released in 2015, and the rest is history. There were a couple of reasons why this film caught my attention. One reason is that I have a soft spot for the Disney version of “The Jungle Book”, mostly the 2016 live-action version by Jon Favreau. The other reason is motion-capture mastermind, Andy Serkis, who serves as both an actor and a director for the film. Based on what I heard about it, it looked like Serkis was really passionate in bringing his own version of “The Jungle Book” to life, but will it be able to impress its target audience?
One major difference you should know before heading into this film is its tone. Compared to the other adaptations of “The Jungle Book”, mostly the ones from Disney, this one is a bit more dark and frightening. The characters in the film are not as friendly and light-hearted as they were in the Disney versions. They don’t sing, they don’t dance, and they certainly don’t provide any kid-friendly humor. It’s basically “The Jungle Book” for teenagers and adults. Kids can watch it as well since it’s rated PG-13, but in terms of its appearance, this is something that should be taken into consideration. As for the story itself, it’s unsurprisingly a retelling of the title character (Chand) and his quest to find his own identity. Let’s just say that if you’ve seen the other versions of “The Jungle Book”, you’ve practically seen this one. However, I have to give credit to Andy Serkis for crafting its similar plot from his own perspective without relying on the elements that kids loved from the Disney versions. It’s not a perfect adaptation of the source material since its intended tone got a bit sidetracked by its humor and its plot had a few shortcomings, but it’s still a solid attempt at sticking closely to Kipling’s works. Ranging from Christian Bale as Bagheera to Benedict Cumberbatch as the villainous Shere Khan, the cast did their part in bringing their own versions of the “Jungle Book” characters to life, and the results were pretty different, but in a good way, with Andy Serkis as Baloo being the prime example. I’m used to Baloo being a care-free and lovable bear, but in this version, he’s more of a general-type bear who helps Mowgli learn how to be a wolf. Andy Serkis, as always, did a great job at making Baloo his own character, even though his performance didn’t top his role as Caesar from the “Planet of the Apes” prequel series as my favorite Serkis performance. The title character in this version is played by Rohan Chand, who was known for his breakout role in the 2013 film, “Bad Words”. To be honest, I thought he did all right. A bit flat at times, but as a whole, he had his moments. Similar to the 2016 version of “The Jungle Book”, “Mowgli” relies on its photorealistic visuals and its lush jungle-like setting to carry the story forward, and they were actually quite impressive. Even the facial expressions on the animals were nicely detailed. I can understand that they’re a bit creepy to look at, but to be completely fair, some of the animals in the 2016 version were pretty scary as well, so there’s literally no competition between the two in terms of what they look like.
Overall, the tone in “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” can be a bit unsettling for younger fans of the Disney adaptations, but it is also what made the film stand out compared to those versions. Despite its similar plot and some tonal issues, Andy Serkis was able to craft a grounded and entertaining “Jungle Book” that is filled with stunning visuals and a talented cast. Based on what I saw, I believe Serkis has got a long way to go if he wants to make himself known as a talented filmmaker. I still think the 2016 live-action version of “The Jungle Book” is the best adaptation so far, but I like this one as well for its change in tone. If you enjoyed Serkis’ other works, I would say give this one a shot.