With the 2010s nearing the tail end of the decade, it could be said that it’s been quite the decade for remakes, reboots, and sequels. With the list much too long that warrants a separate post for such a subject, one such remake has recently been released by Netflix. Directed by Andy Serkis, best known for his voice acting and motion capture roles in various big box-office sci-fi and fantasy films, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle marks a return to the stories of The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.
(Disclosure: In giving the following synopsis, some early plot points are revealed, but are considered not as important as spoilers that come later in the story.)
When a boy named Mowgli (played by Rohan Chand) is taken in by animals of a jungle, he grows to learn specifically of Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). As is just so convenient for Mowgli (*yay sarcasm*), Shere Khan wants Mowgli killed, and thereby having him removed from the jungle. As the story unfolds, Mowgli must learn the importance of protecting his own before losing his home and friends forever.
I’ll admit from the outset, this film was a difficult viewing for me, even at only 98 minutes. Such difficulty was not from how much the story was emotionally weighed down, since this was Serkis’s intention, stating it would be a darker version and one that was closer to the source material. No, for me it was a difficult viewing in how much the narrative was weighed down in its confusing presentation.
It’s clear that many films that could be called emotionally burdened or weighed down have been Oscar-bait for the Academy. Yet one thing many of these films have that I thought Mowgli lacked was a clear direction or structure. Many changes and scenes that come late in the story, I would say, could have been placed much earlier in the story, adding more effective storytelling for the viewer.
For example, many of us are perhaps ready to jump into a whole new world with the main character after about 25 or 30 minutes. If that doesn’t happen, and we’re still in the same “world,” without even any new characters, we might start to lose attention. Some of us may feel it’s starting to drag a bit. I thought Mowgli, unfortunately, suffered from this problem.
On the bright side, Mowgli is supported by some excellent voice acting from a star-studded cast. Christian Bale plays Bagheera, a black panther (which I didn’t recognize while watching!), Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, a bengal tiger, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, an Indian python, Andy Serkis as Baloo, a sloth bear, and Naomie Harris as Nisha, an Indian wolf who is Mowgli’s adopted mother. Though at times I struggled to view each motion-captured character as one unit of both voice acting and computer animation, this wasn’t an awful distraction and thought both were done with excellence.
When reflecting on Serkis and how he directed the entire team, I have to remember that this is the very beginning of his directorial career. His intent was indeed a darker version of The Jungle Book than many have become accustomed to, and at that he succeeded. It is clear in his presentation, as Kaa narrates in the opening scene, that “chaos and darkness came to our lands.” Such raw earthiness and savagery, as displayed through hunting, knives, slicing, death and despair, are for sure traits of the jungle Serkis thought necessary for this telling. It is such a telling, however, that I thought lacked the emotional balance and heart that this story deserves. I still remember feeling moved by the climactic scene in Disney’s animated version from 1967. Instead, I felt the emotional mood throughout was akin to Manchester by the Sea, while remembering to bring things to a close in a disorganized and abrupt way.
Because of such emotional weight and violence that could rightfully be imagined in a jungle, I personally wouldn’t see this as very educationally redeemable or worth the time for anyone younger than a teenager. If you want a story of the jungle with a great voice-acting cast and some great visual effects, check this one out! If you’re expecting something on par with Disney’s recent remake or even Disney’s animated version, just remember: I warned you. ; )
Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my entertainment!): 5.5/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 53/100