Monday, December 10, 2018

Movie Review: "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" (2018)

Director: Andy Serkis
Year: 2018
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

A young boy is found in the jungle by a panther. This child is given to the wolves to be raised as part of their wolfpack. As the boy, Mowgli, grows older, other members of the pack start to think it's time for him to return to the man-village to be with his own kind. 

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle 2018 Netflix movie still Rohan Chand Andy Serkis Baloo
"I would rather die than break with the laws of the jungle." (Image Source)
"Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" just goes to show that making a darker movies doesn't always mean it will be better. This movie is directed by Andy Serkis, who has been in the director's chair before for films like "Breathe" and the made-for-TV movie "The Ruins of Empires," though he is best known for being the master of motion capture acting. The screenplay is written by Callie Kloves and is based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling in the anthology "The Jungle Book." We all know the story of Mowgli (Rohan Chand), the young boy raised by wolves in the thick of the jungles in India. Most of us, however, are more familiar with the Disney adaptation rather than the original story. Andy Serkis tries to bring the darker origins of Mowgli's story to the big screen in this new-to-Netflix film. This version explores Mowgli's rejection from his wolfpack, his integration into the "man-village," and his conflict with the tiger Shere Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch). It is that conflict that is at the center of the story and drives the narrative.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle 2018 Netflix movie still Benedict Cumberbatch Shere Khan Tom Hollander Tabaqui
"Only Khan would kill man's cattle." (Image Source)
Though this version of "The Jungle Book" went into production first, "Mowgli" was beaten into theaters by Disney's live-action remake of their animated film. With Warner Bros. doubting its theatrical viability, it was moved to Netflix where the studio hoped it could get the widest audience possible. After seeing it, we honestly think it was the best course of action because we have a hunch this would have flopped if it had been released in theaters, especially if it had been released now in the middle of Christmas movie-going season. There are some things to like about Serkis's vision of the oft-told story. It is a less familiar, more somber, heavily drama-oriented take on material we have seen in the past, which gives it a somewhat fresh perspective on these characters and this tale. That being said, we can't help but feel that the story is a bit muddled. It doesn't flow very well and seems to lack a real sense of cause and effect. Another problem is some of the voice acting. As soon as Christian Bale's Bagheera opened his mouth, it was like watching "The Dark Knight" all over again. Bale was obviously instructed to use the same gravelly tone of voice for this character, but no amount of digital animation or motion capture can hide the fact that it's actually Bat-gheera mentoring young Mowgli about the hardships of the jungle. Serkis also voices Baloo the bear in addition to directing, and he does so in the same way he voiced his character in "The Adventure of Tin-Tin," a swashbuckling drunkard with a Cockney inflection. It's distracting to the max.

"Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" is meant to be a visual powerhouse. Its rumored production budget was around $100 million. Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like it. We think Serkis's love and devotion for this storytelling medium overshadowed his ability to tell a proper story. Serkis is the mo-cap king, so with him at the helm, we expected something remarkable and fantastic, but when it comes to the design of the animals, the way they look really, really bugged us. We were so taken aback the first time we saw Baloo on-screen that I jumped out of my seat. The bear literally looks like Andy Serkis right down to the lines in its face! And it's not just Baloo: many of the creatures have weird faces that look more like animal-human hybrids straight from "The Island of Dr. Moreau" than they do lions and tigers and bears. It was distracting, unsettling, and a little creepy to watch. It took us right out of the thick of the jungle and put us right into the stuff of nightmares. We're sure no one would deny Serkis's immense talent as an actor, but he focused purely on the visual spectacle of it all to the point where the rest of his filmmaking abilities got derailed and became eclipsed by this ultimately poor choice. The backgrounds, jungle landscapes, man-village ceremonies, the other animals and the way they move from behind when their weird hybrid-mutant faces aren't shown actually look quite good, but peripherals aren't enough to save its technical and narrative blunders.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle 2018 Netflix movie still Rohan Chand
"You're the best wolf I know." (Image Source)
As much as we are fans of Andy Serkis and have often championed him getting his dues as a motion-capture actor, we can't say we're fans of "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle." Serkis had the impossible task of finishing an already overly familiar story in a post-billion dollar Disney world. While Serkis technically started his movie first, his version came out last because of his own choices, and frankly, we're not too thrilled with the results. This is a watchable movie, but it is definitely missing something and doesn't feel fully realized. It wound up falling flat on an emotional level for us, and we desperately wish we could say otherwise.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.7/10
RT Rating: ~52%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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