Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) **

December 5th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Andy Serkis; Cast: Rohan Chand, Matthew Rice, Freida Pinto and the voices of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis; USA/UK 2018, 104 min.

Do we really need a new version of Rudyard Kipling’s story collection The Jungle Book (1894) so soon after the success of John Favreau’s 2016 version? The answer is no, and not this sinister one by Andy Serkis and written by Callie Kloves which takes the much loved children’s classic to a darker more violent place where there’s no singing or dancing  – and no appeal for its fanbase or anybody under the age of twelve, for that matter. A hybrid in every way, the five-year labour of love is an uneasy mix of super-hero yarn and identity conflicts.

After the hungry tiger Shere Khan (Cumberbatch) has devoured Mowgli’s parents, the young boy (Chand) is nurtured by wolves. Bagheera (Bale), the panther and Baloo (Serkis), a not particularly cuddly bear, keeping him safe from Shere Khan, along with python Ka (Blanchett). But Mowgli will never become a proper pack wolf after he is abducted by apes, and reared in a village where hunter Lockwood (Rice) and his gentle wife (Pinto) try to ‘humanise’ the wild child. But after seeing Lockwood’s trophy cabinet, Mowgli has second thoughts.

This latest MOWGLI lacks the humanity of Kipling’s vision: it’s more a Flight-Club in the jungle than anything else. Yes, the effects are stunning, DoP Michael Seresin pulls out all the stops, and other production values are equally convincing – but it always feels like a hijack, not an adaption. Perhaps Serkis wanted to distance himself completely from anything Disney-like – but by doing so, he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Mowgli sits uneasily  between semi-horror and a stale lecture about identity politics. At the same time it’s downright conventional picturing the partnership between Lockwood and his wife in the redundant cliché of hunter and carer. Most of all though, it lacks emotion: a muddled concept of true solidarity (the opposite of Kipling), this Mowgli is reduced to a soulless race for the line. See what you think. AS


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