Review: Gritty 'Mowgli' an effective, but unbalanced take on Rudyard Kipling novel

December 4, 2018

Courtesy of Netflix

Originally conceived as an anthology setting, “The Jungle Book” featured an array of stories with the man cub Mowgli serving as a piece inside one giant puzzle. His story was harsh, ferocious, and bloody - not the kind’ve plotting that translates to children fare. And so director Andy Serkis (the motion capture guru of the millenium) has attempted to delve into a mature look at characters who are otherwise seen as cuddly and friendly. Needless to say, this isn’t the Disney version most grew up with or just saw in 2016.

 

In this iteration, Mowgli (played by Rohan Chad) is tougher than past versions, with his struggles remaining the same (it’s more savage then fans might remember, as it directly draws inspiration from Rudyard Kipling's collection of stories). The boys animal-like appearance and behaviors often clash with his human psychological state, which is a feature I missed from prior installments. Though the previous two “Jungle Books” are *mostly* light on their feet, “Mowgli” attempts to offer a complex view into others who inhabit the jungle. Namely, Mowgli’s animal mentors: Bagheera (Christian Bale), Baloo (Andy Serkis), and Akela (Peter Mullan) - the wolf who served as his father of the pack (those looking for King Louis - be warned, this version, like the book, cuts the comedic character). Although it’s apparent these creatures care deeply for the man cub, they understand that even with intensive training, he’s best off in the village with his own kind.

 

That sense of chaos and danger serve Serkis’s picture well here, evident by scenes of bloodshed and mutilation, which considerably raises the stakes. Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is about as ruthless and diabolical as usual, though his presence lacks the kind’ve deadly intimidation Idris Elba brought to the role in 2016. But considering Mowgli’s got other animals on his plate (like in the “running of the pack” sequence - which tests the readiness of young wolves ability to join the night hunts - Bagheera attempts to maw the poor kids head off).

 

What Serkis prides in his motion-capture CGI glory (it’s scary how lifelike some of these animals appear) he lacks in the human element, specifically when Mowgli is taken out of the jungle and tossed into the human world. The film attempts to contrast the malicious violence with the more obvious destruction of mankind, even introducing an explorer (Matthew Rhys) who seems tacked on for no other reason than to randomly transform into a villain out of nowhere (the less said about the portrait of the Indian community on the outskirts of the jungle - the better).  

 

The animation and voice work in “Mowgli” rivals that of Jon Favreau's “The Jungle Book” - however the third act introduces numerous moral and ethical questions about mankind that Serkis doesn’t answer. The film brushes by the arch of foreign cultures being intruded on by man in favor of a conventional finale you’ll see coming from miles away. The film is worth a click on Netflix, I just wish Serkis hadn’t taken the easy way out.

 

Grade: B-

 

 

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