Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) Movie Review
My History with the Jungle Book
I have grown up and seen several variations of The Jungle Book; whether it be the 1967 Disney animation or some live-action interpretations from the 90s and more recently in 2016 with Jon Favreau’s critically acclaimed Jungle Book remake. I used to love the Disney cartoon as a kid, but frankly haven’t revisited in years. I remember reading the original source material when I was young too, but that was so long ago that I might as well have not read it at all. The film that is freshest in my mind is honestly the 2016 remake in which I was in a seemingly small minority of movie-goers that only thought the movie was ‘okay’; not terrible or even all that bad, simply okay. For myself, Favreau’s film heavily struggled with tone; it wanted to be fun and lighthearted in the vein of the 60s animated movie, yet it also wanted to be darker in parts which would come out of nowhere and cause severe whiplash. This is where I believe Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle truly shines because it gives a very mature take on this story that we all know without holding back the punches, and I loved it.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is basically retains most of what we know about The Jungle Book; a boy named Mowgli was somehow separated by his parents as an infant and is raised by wolves in the jungle. A blood thirsty tiger, Shere Khan, holds some sort of vendetta against Mowgli and wants him dead. Amidst that, Mowgli finds comfort in his friendship with Baloo and Bagheera. A bear and panther who have mainly taken it upon themselves to protect the boy and train him for the harsh world of the jungle. However, they feel obligated to reveal to Mowgli that he’s not a wolf cub at all, but actually the cub of man. Creating a difficult choice for Mowgli to figure out where he truly belongs.
I have so much respect for this movie because it really does make it clear from the opening frame that the jungle is not some friendly place where all the animal inhabitants sing and dance and have a jolly old good time. No. This is the jungle where every second there is some form of danger lurking around every tree and if you let your guard down, even for a second, you could be dead. Yes, the animals talk and they can have a laugh here and there, but there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t aware of the dangers surrounding these characters all the time. The jungle here is to be taken seriously and if someone doesn’t, that could be their end.
Learning about how the law of the jungle worked in this film’s universe was fascinating to me; I don’t remember much development of that particular aspect in the Disney cartoon, but I do remember that it was touched upon in the 2016 film and I remember not quite understanding how their world worked. There was some decent touches, if memory serves me right, but for the most part I found it confusing because I felt it lacked a clear structure. Here, I understand everything from certain hierarchies to what the laws they have created does and does not condone, it was really interesting to watch this civilization of animals with their own sets of codes and ethics. Even when they have to kill another animal there is this own set of beliefs and rituals that the animals must abide by that I thought was a really unique approach. Because of all these creative touches in the writing I felt totally encompassed within this jungle world and I wanted to know how everything worked inside of it.
Mowgli in this movie is the most developed I have ever seen this character; the basics of him are the same, but how the script progresses and analyzes this character provides an amount of depth I haven’t quite seen for Mowgli before. It is refreshing to watch and I appreciated the touches in the writing that made Mowgli so 3-dimensional with a good arc about him figuring out where he fits in the world. If he’s not a wolf and not a man then what is he? It was an interesting question that I liked seeing unfold in the film. Not to mention that actor Rohan Chand did a fantastic job in his performance portraying this kid. He was likable and sweet, but could also be savage and even intense in certain scenes. I don’t think I’ve seen this child actor in a movie before, but I am definitely a fan. He had such a great range of expressions that made me believe every moment with him. Another problem I had with the Favreau film was the kid who played Mowgli, Neel Sethi, he wasn’t quite… how do I put it? He wasn’t quite seasoned enough as an actor to make me believe in the world he supposedly inhabits. Both movies feature two lead child actors that for the majority of filming are working in green screen rooms. With Neel I didn’t believe that he was once looking at an animal, but with Rohan I bought every conversation and glance he shared with the animals. And trust me when I say it wasn’t due to the effects work, I’ll get to that aspect later on, but it was largely because of Rohan’s performance. He believed he was in the jungle with these dangerous creatures and so did I because of that.
The Jungle Family
Legend of the Jungle is perfectly cast with every role, every voice and facial performance matched its character immensely, enhancing the characters into great heights. Everyone has this feeling of history and understanding with the jungle. Surprisingly Christian Bale as Bagheera the panther probably provided the most heart to this film as his big brother like relationship with Mowgli is fleshed out, which is somewhat odd to me since that is usually the result of the character Baloo. Not to say that Baloo, played by Andy Serkis, is bad by any means because he’s also fantastic. But there was something about how sweet and caring Bagheera was while also having to be extremely tough on Mowgli really hit home with me, especially when it became particularly the most difficult for Bagheera to be harder on him because you know that everything he does is only to keep Mowgli alive even if it means Mowgli hates him as a result. He does it because there’s an bond between the two that makes them family to one another.
I thought every actor made each character their own, which was something sorely missing in the 2016 Jungle Book remake. Aside from Bill Murray as Baloo, no one left an impression on me as being ‘just right’ for the role. Why was Scarlett Johansson Kaa? No reason. She wasn’t bad, but there’s nothing about her voice that resonated with the character. However, Cate Blanchett supplies a real weight to the character of Kaa that feels like she is this powerful figure inside of the jungle. Christopher Walken as King Louie (2016) was extremely awkward, and I love Christopher Walken, but his whole sequence was completely jarring. Ben Kingsley gave a relatively uninspired performance as Bagheera. Even Idris Elba as Shere Khan was a bit of a let down for myself because the script failed to help me understand what this character even wants, which is sad because Elba is practically perfect casting for the role of Khan.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan was terrifying, when I say terrifying I mean it. In the Disney cartoon he had his moments certainly, mainly due to how well the voice actor was in the movie. In this movie I thought Mowgli was going to die so many times just because of how intimidating Shere Khan is here. He can just give a look and it was as though he were staring directly into my own soul right while he got ready to leap through the television screen to maul me to death. There is one camera shot in this film where Shere Khan isn’t even in focus, he’s just lurking within the jungle behind the bushes and all that can be made out is his eye staring back at you and when I realized that’s what I was looking at I thought my heart shot out my chest and crapped itself.
It’s one thing to have a solid performance, but I need to know what this character is all about and why he is doing what he’s doing; in 2016, Khan’s motivation was all over the map. In 2018, I get it. I get why he wants Mowgli dead and why he rebels against the laws of the jungle. Because the writing was able to provide me with that understanding only adds to how afraid I became of this character. Shere Khan is done with the old ways and feels that animals have to take what they want for themselves. He also believes that Mowgli is his right to have since he was the one that murdered his parents, therefore he is entitled to Mowgli’s blood and must end his line by himself.
Okay, this is where I think I unfortunately have somewhat negative criticisms about this otherwise really good movie. The CGI isn’t what I would call ‘realistic'. It is severely apparent that these aren’t real animals that Mowgli is interacting with, they are clearly just CGI creations put on screen. The environment a lot of the time was obviously the actor standing in front of a green screen. That being said, I somehow still very much so believed in the world and characters I saw. Even though there were many times where I watched and said to myself, “Well that’s not real”, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because the writing and performances of these characters made me accept what I was seeing to be real. Which is more than I can say about the 2016 movie in all honesty, I mean at least I can tell that Legend of the Jungle built a set and visited the Jungle occasionally, while Jungle Book was always obviously in a green screen room 100% of the time. When I saw Bagheera or Baloo in Legend of the Jungle I saw a character, when I saw them in 2016’s Jungle Book I saw moving pixels. Plus it helps with the fact that Legend of the Jungle is a gorgeous looking film. The CGI may not be convincing in realism, but it functions with stylish imagery sprinkled throughout.
Did I Mention That It’s On Netflix?
So anyways, aside from the CGI not being exactly realistic, I highly recommend Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Do not confuse this film with a cutesy kid’s musical flick. This is for a mature audience; not that there’s a lot of gore or anything but it contains adult themes and things do get pretty dark at times. If you believe your children can handle the content then by all means, but if you don’t believe that they can then there are plenty of other versions of The Jungle Book that can easily provide fun for the whole family. However, if you’re looking for something with real teeth then look no further because this does not pull punches and is an interesting look into a creative world of the jungle. If this sounds like your cup of tea then check it out on Netflix as soon as possible! This was a passion project for Andy Serkis to be made and you can tell that he has a real love for the source material in his film. So far this is the second venture I’ve seen of his in his directorial pursuits and I must say that he is proving himself to be one of our greatest talents working in film today. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Jungle Book History
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© 2018 John Plocar