Well…it’s different at least…
In Andy Serkis’ second dabble in film directing, we are treated with a dark and visually stunning adaptation of the Jungle Book. Though despite the strength of its production quality, I was left scratching my head as to what was this film’s target audience.
In Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, we follow a slightly alternate version of the classic by Rudyard Kipling. One day in the jungle, big, bad feline Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) was out giving a couple of Indians the business, low-and-behold these unfortunate sods happen to be the titular Mowgli’s (Rohan Chan) parents. After being swiped by Bagheera (Christian Bale), Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves to be a wolf. After a streamlined first half in which we meet the remaining bulk of Kipling’s iconic characters, such as Baloo (Serkis) and Kaa (Kate Blanchett), Mowgli is forced out of the pack to face the reality that the jungle can bare him no more.
This film had been in production for a while and it’s very likely that it would never have seen the light of day without the success of Disney’s Oscar-winning The Jungle Book. Netflix, after seeing Disney rake in the big bucks two years ago, acquired the rights to the Serkis’ passion piece from Warner Bros and, in doing so, ensured that production was seen through to its release.
This film was clearly made with heart and dedication by Serkis, but there are several glaring issues plaguing this film that really kept it from achieving its full potential. Whilst these problems are varied, ranging from the noticeably awkward usage mo-cap used for the CGI creatures to some slightly wooden performances (Chan was an undoubtedly lacklustre lead), I feel that the elephant in the room is Mowgli’s massive tonal problems which has produced a film that doesn’t know exactly who it’s catering for.
A running gag of the recent barrage of live-action remakes has been their willingness to delve into dark and edgy waters (often at the expense of any charm and/or heart from their originals), Mowgli takes this concept and cranks it up to a thousand. Like, my god, within the first scenes we watch as Shere Khan slaughters a group of Indian chaps! We’re also shown animals dying in cold blood and, well, on the subject of blood, Serkis spared no expense – after every ruffle and tussle Mowgli is brandished with a fresh set of bloodied war-wounds. Now, this would be no issue for most films, actually for a teenage/adult audience this is a tame film. Because realistically, the only people who are going to scroll through Netflix and have a gander are families; I mean, what family hasn’t already seen either of the two Disney adaptations? Of course, the 2016 remake had a more serious approach, but it was still appropriate to all age ranges. Not Legend of the Jungle though, and I think there is one key example that proves this.
Now, shield your eyes lest you want to be spoiled, but unless you’re a member of the Jungle Book fan club you’re really not missing a whole lot by avoiding this movie. Nevertheless, I present to you the ballad of Bhoot.
The character Bhoot is introduced early on as Mowgli’s quirky and lovable best pal who happens to be an albino Wolf pup. Now, the wolf pack of the film have their own interesting culture, a proponent of which is a coming-of-age initiation process, however if a young wolf fails said test then they are cast from the pack to live a life of solitude in the jungle. Bhoot is one such failure, he is a weak, little runt who is maliciously teased and bullied by his peers, he and Mowgli bond through the equilibrium of being ‘different’ and ‘special’. Despite his treatment he maintains an optimistic and lively outlook, dreaming that one day he’ll successfully prove himself worthy. After Mowgli also fails the initiation and is nearly killed by Shere Khan, the man-cub becomes despondent and then savagely lashes out at poor, little Bhoot, declaring to the annoying runt that “he came out wrong”.
After this tirade, in which Bhoot scuttles off crying, we don’t see him again until the third act. By said act, Mowgli has become an accepted and thriving member of a village of humans – of which a white, colonial hunter called Lockwood (Mathew Rhys) is residing in. One night after a pretty lit Indian-style party, Mowgli wonders within an inebriated Lockwood’s home where he stumbles upon…
The severed head of Bhoot.
I shit you not, they literally show the fucker’s severed head.
And somehow, he’s smiling. I don’t know how, but Bhoot’s removed head is flashing a mischievous grin.
WHO IS THIS FILM MEANT FOR???
Like, I burst out laughing when I saw it for the first time, like it’s so messed up it’s hilarious. And then Mowgli just stands there petrified whilst this slobbering drunk delivers a monologue about the glories of trophy hunting. Literally, it’s been a while since I laughed so hard. I swear I had to have a shower after watching this because I felt so sinful and morally repugnant.
Alas, flashy and strong visuals seemingly cannot save this film from its own identity crisis. Whilst passionate and clearly done with the best intentions, it is brought down by its overtly darker edge and unengaging story that really renders it unenjoyable to children and adults alike.