Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Matthew Rhys, Frieda Pinto
Run Time: 104 mins
It seems a minor miracle that Andy Serkis’ long gestating alternative take on The Jungle Book has actually made it out for public viewing. First, the film recieved numerous delays and then Warner Bros got cold feet, thinking they had a disaster on their hands and the film was then unceremoniously acquired by Netflix. Part of the reason for this trepidation was undoubtedly the widescale success of Jon Favreau’s 2015 Disney film which recieved unanimous praise. Serkis’ film could afford not to be anything other than stellar otherwise it would be unfavourably compared to Favreau’s take. Serkis takes a different look at these characters audiences have come to cherish by sticking more closely to Rudyard Kipling’s original material, offering a much darker and grittier take compared to Disney.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an ambitious film that is consistently entertaining and is very different to other interpretations that have come before it. The darker tone Serkis strikes suits the material well and results in a film that is more adult and this makes the stakes much more realistic for the character we have come to love. This is certainly not a film for younger audiences. Serkis again proves to be a master of motion capture and this film represents further evidence of his talents, that extends to the rest of the cast as well. The wild animals of the jungle look like their acting counterparts and this gives them much greater empathy.
The performances are great with both Andy Serkis as Baloo and Christian Bale as Bagheera the standouts, who have more of a wilder streak than Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley in Favreau’s version and both share a good chemistry. Matthew Rhys is also well cast as a human hunter in the native village, who is just as much a villain as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan. Rohan Chand is solidly cast as the titular character but lacks the likeability of Neel Sethi’s performance in the 2016 film. Benedict Cumberbatch is also suitably nasty as Shere Khan in the limited screentime he has and it’s a shame that he isn’t all that developed.
The main problem with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is it doesn’t try to strike a dark enough tone. Having a 12A rating means it still appeals to slightly older children but cannot quite push the boundary in merciless violence to really deliver the additional bite the film needs. It also lacks the energetic pace of Favreau’s film whose film flows much better but this film is never boring.
Visually, the film also looks unfinished. Serkis’ intentions are admirable and the visual ideas posed here are good but it doesn’t look like he’s been given the budget to fully realise his film which means the film doesn’t look as refined as Favreau’s photorealist vision. This means that Serkis’ film has too have a good story to overcome the unfinished visuals which it has, which is the main success of this film. Serkis knows that character work is most important.
Overall, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an ambitious retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic material and whilst it is ultimately a success, it is likely to be underappreciated due to releasing so quickly after the 2015 Disney film. It’s also a real shame that Warner Bros seemed to have such little confidence in this work and had Serkis been allowed to refine the visuals, this could have been a very good film. Instead, this film has been dumped on Netflix and unfortunately, one can only imagine how much better this film could have been had it of recieved a proper post-production and distribution.