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Disney’s The Jungle Book is just a mere two years old at this point and while Mowgli was unaware of its existence at the time of production, it’s still a little too soon for another retelling of nearly the same story. Mowgli, later titled Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, is a film that I’m glad I watched for the visuals alone. While I believe this film will stick with me longer than the most recent The Jungle Book, it’s not a film that I would ever trek back to down the road.
Andy Serkis directs this CGI heavy feature in which Serkis does what he knows best, and that’s dealing with impressive motion capture technology. Serkis has wonderfully recreated the gritty jungle as it should be from the original telling of the story while adding a realistic element to the film that Disney’s never had before. Serkis is an astonishing director when working with his craft, as he navigates every single move and facial feature to be properly implemented into the final picture. Everything takes on the world Serkis has built. The talking animals don’t feel out of place in this setting, as they belong in their environment; ironically, it’s the humans that don’t belong. The only downside to his direction of an original adaptation is the darkness it carries along with it. It’s unsettling and not a film that is easily watched at times. The film is not a telling of a storybook, but more like a campfire horror story.
Although visually stunning and brilliantly directed (withholding a few scenes), the narrative is surprisingly thin. To be completely honest, I’ve never been a fan of the plot for any adaptation of the source material. Mowgli is a boy raised by wolves, and later as he grew older felt challenged to become part of the “pack” or to be alone in the jungle. Alone in the jungle where Shere Khan, the ferocious tiger who murdered his parents, stalks Mowgli patiently until the time comes for him to catch his prey. Placed within an almost exact runtime as Disney’s adaptation, this darker rendition of the tale seems poorly paced and oddly edited together. While a part of Serkis’ direction, it seems more involved with Callie Kloves’ script than the direction, feeling like the story itself was crammed together to attempt to make an emotional storyline with little to feed off of. The story never explored anywhere unexpected, with the film moving in a particularly straight narrative direction and even eliminating some of the most interesting pieces of The Jungle Book. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle may succeed with its dark tone, but its story certainly doesn't surpass any adaptation that’s come along yet.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The voice talent is phenomenal, including the likes of Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Andy Serkis in starring roles. They give an authentic nature to all of the animals as if they were capable of talking in real life, while exemplifying a near perfect casting on 95% of the characters. Surprisingly the one main character that didn’t work for me was Cate Blanchett as Kaa, who lost her signature snake noises and talks in a normal female voice, which is a case in which Favreau won with his casting of Johansson. Also Kaa has joined the ranks of characters I just don’t care about in this adaptation as she is trying to keep Mowgli safe but for no reason beyond a prophecy. The same goes with an elephant that comes out of nowhere to save the day in one scene. This happens occasionally in Serkis’ Mowgli where a character will appear to do something to service the plot at that moment and then disappear until the plot needs that character again. It’s a noticeable flaw in the film. This same occurrence happens with several characters, including a secondary human villain, that feel lumped into the story simply because original tale most likely included their appearance. However, inside the film it’s used to slightly benefit the plot in a very awkward manor. I’d be remiss not to mention Rohan Chand, the titular character of Mowgli who gives a considerably admirable effort in the role, although he just doesn’t work for the character 100% of the time. However during the majority of the film he truly embodies the character at times of suffering for Mowgli, and it is heartbreaking to witness.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Nitin Sawhney, who is just getting his start in feature films thanks to Serkis, gains one of his first composer credits for a feature in Serkis’ technical directorial debut, Breathe. While I must admit that I never saw the Andrew Garfield starring film, I can only imagine great things as far as the soundtrack goes. The score impacts the characters interactions greatly and provides another component that assists in some of the flaws being forgiven. The action is heart racing and emotions run high with help from the film’s astounding score. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has a fantastic sound design as well, apart from Kaa, the animals and human day-to-day activities are all wonderfully crafted, engineering even more realism with every drink, jump, or growl. The jungle feels like what the jungle should and that’s really what’s important with a film that takes place 90% inside said environment.
It’s been spoken about already in the direction, but Serkis knows his way around motion capture technology, and it’s used flawlessly throughout the entirety of Mowgli. This film is absolutely gorgeous, and I’d even offer to say that visually (besides a slight flaw at the end) this film is a masterpiece. If you go into this film and watch it disappointed with the visuals, you are absolutely bonkers, as the CGI helps project the animals emotions and way of life excellently. The trailers do not capture the sheer beauty of the digital effects, as they flow perfectly in their environments, and for the majority of the film feel entirely realistic within this world. Visually, Mowgli is a more immersive experience than 2016’s in almost every way - most importantly with the interactions between Mowgli and the CGI animals.
As a critic, you’re never supposed to dive deep into comparisons with films that are similar or have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but that’s nearly impossible here. When it gets down to it, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an unfortunate situation as it arrives too soon since the Disney version was released. There’s no singing and dancing in this version, as it is darker than the Disney film in almost every way and in a way that is almost unforgivable to the film - making sense for the story, but a significant reason not to return. Don’t be mistaken, Serkis’ Mowgli is a quality film that should be considered a cinematic marvel for some, but it’s not one that anyone should go out of their way to see, especially with the minor problems it possesses. For fans of Disney’s adaptation: ignore the existence of Mowgli, but for non-fans of the material such as myself, this film won’t fix anything - it’s a film that I understand the reasoning for its creation, but equally can’t get behind the story being redone once more in so little time.