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Mowgli Movie Review: Andy Serkis Exhibits The Jungle Book’s Maturer & Darker Side

Mowgli: The Legend Of The Jungle looks epic.

When it comes to the Jungle Book, everyone instantly compares it to the Disney’s animation and live-action versions.

However, this Andy Serkis directorial promises to maturely focus on how the man-cub returns to his own kind.

The story follows the upbringing of the human child Mowgli (Rohan Chand) by a pack of Indian wolves in the jungles of India.

As he learns the often harsh rules of the jungle under the tutelage of a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis) and a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale).

Mowgli becomes accepted by the animals of the jungle as one of their own except for the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Hyena follower Tabaqui (Tom Hollander).

But there may be greater dangers lurking in the jungle as the ‘man-cub’ comes face to face with his human origins.

Read on to find out Filme Shilmy’s verdict.

Different from the other Versions

It is commendable to see the entire Jungle Book collections being exhibited in one film.

Up till now, this has not happened in the Disney versions.

In fact, all the Jungle Book films concluded with Mowgli returning to human civilisation.

However, this Netflix production focuses beyond that and provides a further insight.

Unlike the animated and other live-action versions, this is maturer and darker.

We get to see how Mowgli gets trained to be apt for the wolf pack and defend himself in the jungle especially with Shere Khan at large.

There is also an emphasis on his emotions about he tries to become like the other animals.

The audience also witnesses the same characters, but their roles in Mowgli’s life are much different.

For instance, Baloo is not the friendly, singing-and-dancing creature as portrayed in the original Disney film.

He, in fact, is a cadet-like figure who trains Mowgli hard to be a part of the pack.

Also, Kaa – who is usually seen in an antagonistic light, actually saves the man-cub from being attacked by Shere Khan.

Whilst we see the enticing aspect to Kaa, she is essayed as the old, all-knowing creature. It is quite interesting to see different sides to these characters.

Impressive Special Effects

Mowgli is competent on the technical aspect,

The creation of all the animals is well-done… Hats off the VFX team for this.

Even the set creation of the jungle is quite impressive, but what also works is the camera-work and cinematography.

The way the camera moves with Mowgli during the chase sequences exudes a visceral feel, almost as if we too are in the jungle witnessing everything.

One scene that strikes the viewer is when the man-cub is hiding underwater, only to find Shere Khan above him, drinking from that lake.

At this point, the viewer feels the threat and menace of Khan. The camera and crisp cinematography enhances this ominous effect,

A special mention goes to Nitin Sawhney for the enchanting background score.

Nitin’s music is majestic, to say the least. It leaves the audience mesmerised and suited the film’s narrative.

Good Performances

Rohan Chand is incredible as Mowgli. There is an innocence in his eyes which is so pivotal for such a role.

Through Rohan’s performance, we get to see a transition of his character as naive man-cub to a protector of the wolf-pack.

His confident expressions and dialogue delivery are signs which prove that Rohan is a competent actor even at a mere age of 13-14 years.

Chrisitan Bale is first-rate as Bagheera the black panther. Through the deepness of his voice, we get to see that concern and compassion for Mowgli.

The strong bond between the man-cub and Bagheera comes across well on screen.

Andy Serkis presents a different side to Baloo. From his voice, we get to see a stricter, disciplined and (sometimes) soft attitude of the bear.

Interestingly, this colonel-style of persona is originally shown in the Hathi character.

Serkis gives Baloo a cockney accent, which makes us wonder whether the bear has escaped from Eastenders!

Cate Blanchett is feisty, seductive and relatively sinister as Kaa.

She doesn’t emulate Scarlette Johanson in this and gives the python almost a quasi-heroic interpretation, especially since she narrates the story of Mowgli.

Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Shere Khan. He manages to create that peril for the character through his voice and he does a splendid job.

Matthew Rhys appears as the hunter. We view his character through the perspective and emotions of Mowgli and therefore, one seems to despise his passion for killing the animals.

Freida Pinto is once again seen in a Hindi speaking role.

Unfortunately, Pinto’s appearance is quite short-lived. But we see her essay the part of Messua, a villager who looks after Mowgli, as a maternal figure.

It would’ve been nice to see more of her.

What’s Wrong?

Given that the premise, technical tropes and performances are good, there are some aspects which let the film down.

Primarily, the screenplay could’ve been much tighter and as a result of this, the film’s pace bears the brunt of it.

There also seems to be an inconsistency in the direction.

For instance, the new parts of the story such as Mowgli training to be a wolf and his experience of returning to his own kind are convoluted and detailed.

However, when it comes to depicting the well-known narrative points of The Jungle Book, these parts are rushed leading up to an abrupt and sudden ending. 

Perhaps this inconsistency is due to the fact that the film has been delayed for so many years? 

Whilst it is good to see that the film is not overtly westernised, the mispronunciations of character names deter the authenticity of the story.

For so many years, the wolf Akela – meaning ‘alone’ in Hindi – is pronounced as ‘Akeela’ and this yet again this happens. 

Likewise for ‘Baloo’, when his name (really speaking) should be pronounced as ‘Bhalu’ meaning bear.

Given that South-Asians are finally being represented in Hollywood, it would’ve been nice to have accuracy in character names!

Final Word

On the whole, Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle decently showcases The Jungle Book story majorly from the perspective of the man-cub.

Comparatively to the other versions out there, this is definitely darker, maturer and avoids painting a rosy picture of this traditional tale. 

It might not be a kid-friendly film, Mowgli does cater for family viewing.

If one sets out to seek a different angle to The Jungle Book, then you will definitely achieve this. 

However, what lets the film down is the weak screenplay and direction.

Had the weakness been improved, Mowgli could’ve easily outdone the other versions. 

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Mowgli: Legend of The Jungle streams on Netflix from Friday 7th December 2018.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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