Quick Hit: Much darker than the sweet Disney movies that have come before it, the film still feels uneven and unfinished despite a production of more than three years.
Andy Serkis is the undisputed king of motion capture performances, after his performances stole The Lord of the Rings series and The Planet of the Apes remakes. When I heard he had assembled a star voice cast for a Jungle Book remake, I was beyond excited. But things got a bit confusing in production, and Jon Favreau and Disney produced The Jungle Book (2016) which made boatloads of money and an Oscar. So the production of this got shelved, shelved, and eventually dumped to Netflix, where so many movies have gone to die.
That means instead of a grand theatre screen, I got to enjoy this on a Vizio in my basement. Nothing wrong with that really (I watch most movies there), but I can’t help but wonder how the effects would have looked in larger viewing experience. I focus here because when they’re good, these effects make the movie. Motion Capture is terrific when done correctly, and at times, particularly with characters like Baloo (Serkis himself) and at times with Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), there is some really amazing effects work that adds to the depth of the story. But, when done wrong (most of the wolves) there is some really distracting feelings – almost as if a kid glued people faces on animals – that really tear away from the movie.
And there are some great performances in this movie, starting with the lead – young Rohan Chand. His Mowgli is probably the best that there has been. He’s both feral at times (a moment later in the movie finds him gnawing on the bars of a cave) and sweet and civilized. It’s a great dichotomy, and it gets to the heart of Mowgli the character. He also does a great job at presenting the issues that Mowgli would have at fitting into the jungle order. Other interpretations have hinted at this, but few have gone so far forward into the idea. However, at times he is still dwarfed by his costars, whose stardom is evident as voice after voice is presented for you.
I think the best thing that Mowgli has going for it is the willingness it has to get darker. Friends die (OH MY GOSH IS THAT REALLY??? WHATTTTTT??? WOW), we get very overt colonization metaphors, and the elephants are no longer English drill instructors but are instead huge mythic beasts covered in moss and willing to exact revenge on the colonizers. It’s disturbing, as is some of the other effects, but the film short sells this aspect by continuing to pull its punches and trying to keep the film suitably family friendly. And far too much of the film focuses on Senate-style discussions of the wolf-pack while all the characters sit around and watch. It might make for an interesting film when deep diving into the politics of Kipling’s story, but here, it just slows the pace of an already slow movie.
Is this one worth a watch? Yes. I think there are some deep poetic portions to the movie – like the elephants – and there’s also some dialogue that is reminiscent of Kipling’s prose, like a dark exchange between Mowgli and Tabaqui, a hyena who works with Shere Khan. But is it good? Not as much. It’s in the average range, and I’m giving it a “C-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"