Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a bit different from the version the Disney corporation made once upon a time. And since the Kipling book is probably in the public domain, that means anyone interested in making a version that is closer to the Kipling original would probably be able to do so. Apparently, actor Andy Serkis has been wanting to do just that for a while and makes his directorial debut with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.
Then it turned out Disney was making their own live action version based on their animated version, so Warner Brothers opted to push back Serkis’ movie and eventually it came out on Netflix.
After an introductory voice over by the wise python Kaa (Cate Blanchett), we see the tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) going nuts on some humans, accidentally leaving a baby boy behind. Taking pity on the child, the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) takes the infant to a wolf pack to raise, and fortunately, two speak up for the man cub to allow him to stay in the form of Bagheera and Baloo the bear (Serkis). Baloo here trains the wolf pups to survive and the pack, and by extension the jungle, has strict rules that must be followed if everyone is to survive and not attract attention from the nearby human village. Mowgli (Rohan Chand), as the boy is known, can’t do a lot of the things a wolf can do, but he doesn’t want to go live with the humans either. But when Shere Khan returns, determined to finish off the family he started by eating Mowgli, it may be time to push the boy to live with his own species.
The special effects here are pretty good if not quite as good as the Disney version. The artistic choices Serkis makes lead to some beautiful shots of the jungle and the human village when Mowgli finally goes there. The acting is fine, especially from the voice cast that presumably did some motion capture given who directed this movie. And it is more faithful to Kipling’s work. People who only know The Jungle Book from any Disney version they have will probably be shocked by a less mellow Baloo and a less antagonistic Kaa at the very least. But who is this movie for? A boy antagonist and a lot of talking animals might suggest a family film, but there are a lot of mature ideas tossed into this one, particularly when Matthew Rhys comes in as a human game hunter that are a bit less than small kid friendly. For all the movie is an obvious labor of love, it doesn’t seem to have a consistent tone to it. 7 out of 10 albino wolf pups.