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Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

Andy Serkis is more commonly known for his work in motion-capture. The Brit has brought to life such memorable characters as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, King Kong in the 2005 film of the same name, and Caesar from the new Planet of the Apes trilogy. Few know that the actor has been pursuing a directing career as well. He made his feature-length debut behind the camera with the mushy Breathe in 2017, and now takes on the famed material from Rudyard Kipling in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a darker take that is more loyal to the book than any Disney version (the film is produced by Warner Brothers so they would have run into legal issues). The story follows Mowgli (Rohan Chand) a feral boy living in the jungles of India in the 19th century. He grows up amongst wolves and is hunted by the human-hungry tiger Shere-Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The story is known to all, but the refreshing take of this adaptation is that it’s much darker and infused with realism. I actually wouldn’t even categorize this as children’s film (it has a PG-13 rating in the US) as there is much blood and violence that exemplifies the dangers of surviving in the jungle. As an adult viewer this darker take is appreciated, as it pays respects both to the source material from Kipling and to the realism aspects of certain film snobs’ minds (ie. Me). There were many who watched the original animated version and scoffed at the idea that an innocent and clueless kid could survive in a vicious jungle.

Serkis brings about the use of motion-capture in this film too, and the 2016 Disney remake of the same story also did this to much success. However, there are certain technological nuances in Mowgli that the 2016 Jungle Book didn’t have. Many of the animal characters seem to almost have the likeness of their voice actors, and this is thanks to the pioneering technology that Serkis is so familiar with. There is a rendering that lets actors control even cheek-bone muscles and the wrinkling of the forehead. Thus we get the best performances of the movie from a Christian Bale Bagheera and an Andy Serkis Baloo.

Given that our protagonist shares a name with the film, you would expect the actor to be up to the task. Unfortunately, young Rohan Chand seems to have just come out of the first lessons of acting school and thus overacts and over-enunciates everything; taking the viewer out of the story to wrestle with such weak acting. There is clearly good direction from Serkis, as you can see it when Chand is exaggerating specific suggestions, but without some competence or leadership the film falls flat.

The Disney versions did a good job of showing a friendship binding the animals and Mowgli together, but in all the darkness of this film the relationships of the boy and his fellow jungle-mates never fully develops. The result is that most of the character relationships ride on the echoes of the Disney characters in order to provide emotional connection, leaving any dramatic deaths or harsh words to bounce off harmlessly.

In the end Mowgli is a fine jump for Serkis into big-budget films, however he hits a couple of important road-blocks with a bad lead performer and faulty character bonds. However, the impressive computer animation and the joy of simply watching terrific performances from movie stars in motion-capture is enough to make this film enjoyable.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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