To the 90s kids who grew up with the 1967 Disney Animated film, The Jungle Book, Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle might be a strange, dark, little pill to swallow. There is definitely no singing bears to be found here.
The Bad News:
I don’t know if it was intentional to have Mowgli the movie, be a little like Mowgli the character, because both of them seem like neither here nor there. Mowgli the movie is a tad too violent and graphic for young kids. Now you might think the dark tone suits adult viewership, but not quite. There is a certain amount of the weird in Mowgli that doesn’t exactly suit “all” adult tastes. One might say, it can be a bit of an acquired taste, so I worry that Mowgli will have difficulty finding its audience.
Now what Andy Serkis has done with Mo-Cap is nothing short of genius. Gollum, The Planet of the Apes movies..they’re absolutely brilliant. But the thing is, Gollum and the Apes, have human-like characteristics/features. But if you take a non-humanoid animal, say a bear; and then you go and slap human facial expression/s on it, it can be a tad disconcerting, if not downright creepy. Looking at Shere Khan, is like looking right at Benedict Cumberbatch, high cheek bones and all. And Kaa, the python, is plastered with Cate Blanchett’s lips, and that takes a little getting used to. And you don’t want to look at Bagheera full on, because it practically feels like Christian Bale is staring you down. They laugh and smile like humans do as well, so just imagine your dog laughing a human laugh, like the wide grin, hahaha kind. It would probably give you the heebie jeebies.
And the way the animals look is on the strange side too. They are very rugged and rough around the edges, and I don’t mean matted fur etc., but the proportion is just a tad off. Shere Khan’s head seems too large for his body, and he has a deformed paw that is almost comical if he wasn’t so malevolent. Balloo has heft but strangely enough I see jutting angles. He looks like he has been pummeled a lot by the Bare Necessities of Life. It is a feat that he can look hefty but knobbly at the same time. It’s really a bit strange looking at them.
Okay, so all these, I take as negative in terms of marketing the film, but for me, personally, I am all for the twisted-looking puppetry and the dark tone. This is like if Wes Anderson and Tim Burton had a baby, and it is right up my alley. But like I said, Mowgli might be a hard sell because it it looks and feels straight out of some weird dream.
The Good News:
The story strays away from the 1967 Disney animated version, as well as Jon Favreau’s 2016 live-action remake. And that is a good thing because who would want to see yet again, a replica of the 1967 Jungle Book animated movie, especially when Favreau did it quite brilliantly. Now, while the story is nothing revolutionary, I love that it is a more in depth take on how Mowgli feels. I was taken aback by how sad and moving the exploration of Mowgli’s identity was. They highlight the importance of belonging-ness in any society, human or otherwise. And they created new characters, an albino wolf named Bhoot, and a hyena names Tabaqui, in order to highlight the aforementioned theme. My favorite line comes from Tabaqui when he said: “Sometimes I dream I’m a tiger.. But I always wake up a hyena”. This line and the sort of jokey, off-handed way he said it, just about killed me.
With that being said do not expect any singing or dancing. Sad, I know. The 1967 The Jungle Book soundtrack was excellent. Plus, there is the noticeable absence of King Louie, the hilarious, mad orangutan who gives Pinocchio a run for his money in wanting to become a real boy. Whyyyy? (in my best Christopher Walken impression). I’ll tell you why, King Louie is a Disney creation, and is not in Rudyard Kipling’s book (#mindblown). But I consider this a positive, because like I said, who would want a rehash?!
There are some great visuals and camera work too. I particularly love the very psychedelic scene where Kaa was coming on all sides and enveloping Mowgli’s thin frame. And this part where, viewed from underwater by Mowgli, you see Shere Khan’s silhouette as he’s drinking, and the blood from his muzzle taints the pool.
All in all, Mowgli: Legend of The Jungle fits in mah wheelhouse, but I am worried that it might not be for everyone. So this might not exactly be the strong directorial debut, Andy Serkis hoped for.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Watch This if:
- You like something darker and different from the squeaky clean Disney version you know.
- You love Christian Bale’s eyes.
- You love to see Smaug in a Tiger’s body.
- You love a cockney Brown Bear.
- You love identity crisis films.