UK Release Date: 7th December 2018
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Andy Serkis
Writer: Callie Kloves
Starring: Rohan Chand, Andy Serkis, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Peter Mullan, Naomie Harris, Eddie Marsan, Tom Hollander
Synopsis: The age-old tale of a man cub taken in by wolves who must swerve the violent advances of a vicious tiger which harbours a real grudge against human beings.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has a lot going against it from the outset. It’s a passion project by Andy Serkis that has been in production for years, but ended up beaten to the punch by a very well-received remake of The Jungle Book by Disney a couple of years ago. Comparisons between the two movies are only natural and the glossy Disney adaptation presents a hard act for this new take on the material to follow.
Serkis is at least attempting to do something different in his portrayal by sticking more strictly to the story laid out in the original Rudyard Kipling book. While the Disney version was very much a remake of its own classic cartoon movie, songs and all, Mowgli is much more grounded – even with the presence of talking animals. The titular man cub (Rohan Chand) is abandoned in the jungle after the tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) murders his family. He is taken in by the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) and a clan of wolves trained by Baloo the bear (Serkis). Mowgli must try to come to terms with who he is and where he belongs in or out of the jungle.
A more grounded approach is not necessarily a bad idea for this tale and most of the time spent in the jungle manages to retain some of the whimsy of Kipling whilst feeling like a unique interpretation. A particular joy is the fantastic motion capture that allows the actors to add flair to the characters in a very personalised way. It’s not anywhere near the quality of the Planet of the Apes movies, but it definitely works. The effects can be spotty at times, such as the awkwardness of fitting Bale’s capture on to Bagheera, which requires him to have an oddly stretched face that enters the uncanny valley. Serkis as Baloo is a fun incarnation that is one of the most memorable parts of the film and Cumberbatch is having an absolute blast as usual portraying a CGI villain. He absolutely devours the scenery but can still appear threatening as an antagonist.
Unfortunately, there are some real issues with the production that make it feel tonally all over the place. At times it’s a serious take on the material and at others it’s trying to capture the more fantastical elements of the Disney movies. There’s a particularly jarring scene near the end of the second act in which my jaw absolutely dropped. A dark turn in the plot is one thing, but some of the events are borderline traumatic for a younger audience. The result is that I have no idea who this movie is for. It’s too boring and jarringly dark at times for a younger audience and at other times it’s too childish and whimsical for an older audience.
There’s also a real lull in the second act, when our protagonist finds himself living in the human village, that drags horribly. Mowgli is under two hours but feel like it’s stretching to three hours. The movie crawls along to a finale that somehow still feels like it comes and goes too quickly. It’s a plotting mess and feels like a struggled production that was chopped down considerably.
Pop or Poop?
Unfortunately, despite all of its promise, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle under-delivers. What should have been an amazing technical feat ends up in the uncanny valley most of the time in a movie that feels overlong and tonally mismatched. It’s a shame it got beaten to the punch by Disney, as it feels like a production hampered by trying to find its own identity. It ends up not knowing what it is or what it wants to achieve.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.