Andy Serkis's 'Mowgli' Is a Fresh Yet Faithful Take on a Classic Story!
Written by Meg Spaulding
On December 7, Netflix quietly released Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. It’s true that Rudyard Kipling’s stories in The Jungle Book have become legendary. That being said, I went into this movie with only the faintest of memories from the Disney version. I knew the basics, the “bare necessities”, if you will, but I kind of forgot how it ended or what propelled the story forward. Well, in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, I was reminded. Oh yes, that evil tiger is out to get the man-cub Mowgli, for reasons unknown other than he has a craving for his blood. I have to say, tigers have been my favorite animal since I was a kid, so this all feels like unnecessary slander. But we can’t blame the new movie for that; Kipling is the man responsible for the villainous Shere Khan. Mowgli is determined to be loyal to Kipling’s stories, much more so than both Disney versions—the animated 1967 version and the live-action 2016 version. Here’s the scoop on that: Mowgli director Andy Serkis began planning his film before Disney announced they were doing their own new iteration of The Jungle Book. Disney’s version was finished and released sooner than Serkis and Wraner Bros.’s version. So don't get it twisted that this new movie is riding on The Jungle Book’s coattails—both exist, not in competition, but as interestingly different adaptations of the same material.
Mowgli is a relatively serious movie, with explorations of tradition, colonialism, and humanity. Mowgli himself goes through quite a tough time, what with having to prove himself among his wolf family and being ostracized by the jungle community. The human world doesn't fully understand Mowgli either, nor does he understand it in return. Mowgli gets to spend some time in the man-village, and despite all the visual effects in this film, I think the most stunning visuals come from the colorful Holi festival that Mowgli takes part in with his fellow humans.
We love an anti-colonial undertone, and Mowgli offers just that. The British hunter, whom Mowgli is originally fond of, turns out to be a poor role model, as Mowgli discovers that he hunts for sport, not for survival. The way this is revealed is quite heart-wrenching, so tread carefully. The dramatic conclusion of the film is original—even readers of Kipling’s original stories and viewers of the old Jungle Book will still be surprised by Mowgli’s new yet fitting ending.
We can’t talk about this movie without talking about the actors. The young Rohan Chand is impressive as our hero Mowgli—both inspiring and heartbreaking in his portrayal. Some big guns voice the animals, including Cate Blanchett as the all-knowing cobra, Kaa, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the tiger Shere Khan who even I, as a tiger defender, am afraid of. Andy Serkis is at the forefront of the motion-capture world; he played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and in Mowgli he puts his particular set of skills to use as a director and an actor, playing the bear Baloo, whose role in the film would probably best be described as the fun uncle, or maybe the chill teacher. The motion-capture makes for a unique visual, and is especially successful in imparting human expressions onto the animal characters.
When you watch Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, which you should, expect a dark but ultimately redemptive take on an old classic. Listen hard for those familiar voices (Christian Bale nails his “little brother” line every time), and enjoy the rich visuals and heartfelt ethos of the jungle. If stories reflect society, this story shows that we are still coming to grips with the differences between human and beast, and what it means to be a man in a world that will always be outnumbered by animals.
P.S. Don’t read the comments under the trailer, because they all give away the big surprise in the movie!
(Image via Netflix)
- Meg Spaulding, YH Contributing Writer