‘Mowgli’ Is a Children’s Fable Oddly in Love With Dirt and Blood
Rohan Chand as Mowgli with Christian Bale as Bagheera in Netflix’s <i>Mowgli.</i>
Rohan Chand as Mowgli with Christian Bale as Bagheera in Netflix’s Mowgli.(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

Review: ‘Mowgli’ Is a Children’s Fable Oddly in Love With Dirt and Blood

In Andy Serkis’ head, The Jungle Book is nothing like the world Disney wants us to believe in. It’s merciless, filled with blood and gore, quite contrary to the place where joyous ditties are belted out.

It’s a curious start. We assume we’re not in a children’s zone. But as the frames of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle go past one by one, the violence on display seems terribly mismatched to the narrative style.

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Callie Kloves’ script has the broad strokes of a children’s film, the way popular imagination remembers Rudyard Kipling’s tales.

The characters are sketched with the flair of comic strips, but the world they inhabit is fundamentally menacing. Blood is spilled, scars are formed, and an overall darkness runs through it. This bleak outlook may have begun with the solemnity of making the jungle as animalistic as the source material, but when it locks horns with its cartoonish characters, it’s quite a strange mix.

And far from entertaining its target audience aka kids of all sizes and ages, this version of The Jungle Book will surely only leave them with nightmares.

Serkis’ project has been a victim of bad timing no doubt, but its lack of storytelling focus is also bogged down by a jungle that looks like a cheaper version of what Disney unleased two years ago.

“The jungle is eternal,” says Bagheera about their home without looking around. If he really does, he’d see a forest that’s more of a set-in studio than the deep dense one that Jon Favreau had visualised.

The set-up as we’ve known it is the same: Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is that infant who was rescued by the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Christian Bale), and raised by a pack of wolves. Growing up, Mowgli develops identity crisis, and he doesn’t know whom to align himself with: his humanness or his adapted jungle instincts. Of course, Bengal tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) who made him an orphan at the beginning is still baying for his blood and flesh.

A poster of <i>Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle</i>.
A poster of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.

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Serkis has been a maestro of motion capture, bringing to life some of the most remarkable characters of cinema history with passion and intensity. Here, directing a bunch, and playing Baloo himself, his digital rendering of the animals is peculiarly strange.

From a distance, all of them have a fluidity of movement, but as you draw in close, you notice how the animals look like the actors voicing them. If this wasn’t bewildering enough, the celebrity voice-works never manage to pin down the emotional net the movie is so clearly aiming for.

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The last time Disney adapted Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it made a sunny side up of Mowgli’s struggle. But it never bothered to subvert the ideas of imperialism embedded within. But the most troublesome was the moral that the death of a tiger by a human, an endangered animal in today’s times, should be celebrated. But it had incredible animation at its disposal, and a filmic energy to sail it through.

A still from <i>Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle</i>.&nbsp;
A still from Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

Serkis’ Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, on the other hand, is a misfire above and beyond what Disney did. Coupled with a colonial hangover (aren’t we tired of that) and freaky anthropomorphic animals, it’s a children’s fable oddly in love with dirt and blood. The man-cub is yet to grow up.

(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)

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