Mowgli as most of us know is the story of a child raised by animals living a feral existence, untouched by social manners and in that regards he should be signed up for The Only Way is Essex. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book this sticks closely to its source material so from the start Mowgli is found by Bagheera the friendly black panther ,which for once is not the Marvel superhero and is voiced by Christian Bale and is left with the wolf pack leader Akela (Peter Mullan) where they raise him with their other cubs.
The film picks up with Mowgli (Rohan Chand) as a young boy living in the jungle with the wolf pack but the story maintains the presence of Shere Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch) the tiger who killed his parents and now wants him for a light snack too. But is prevented by Akela, Baghera and Baloo who unlike the Disney version is plated here by Andy Serkis as a cockney sergeant major type training Mowgli to be one of the pack. So we have a whole load of sequences of Mowgli running on all four with the wolf pack but never really being able to keep up.
This version of the story plays up the environmental aspect of the story where the village and the jungle animals very much keep away from each other. But this all changes when Shere Kahn starts killing the villagers animals and who the villagers in turn hire a hunter to kill the tiger. For the animals the jungle is getting smaller as the village impinges on their home and its Khan killing that’s intended to put pressure on the wolf pack to hand Mowgli over to them. Its puts the whole jungle in danger from humans and Bagheera encourages Mowgli that for everyone’s own safety he should return to the village and his kind.
For anyone with memories of Disney’s classic animated Jungle Book as well as the recent live action version and thinking this would be a great film for the kids to watch should be warned this is very dark and unflinching in its depiction of life and death in the jungle. Serkis’s presentation of the jungle is a dangerously brutal place and doesn’t shy away from death and dying. And in that way it’s faithful to Kipling’s book. This is not the bright and breezy jazz jiving sing-a-long cuddly animals version indelibly impressed on everyone’s minds. Kaa is slithery and sly, Shere Kahn is a bloodthirsty killing machine and even the monkeys don’t want to be like you-oo-oo but here are a shrieking ly psychotic and scary. In that respect it’s difficult to know who this is really aimed at.
Serkis, the King of motion capture performance, is as good as we’ve come to expect from him as Kahn’s hateful sniggering hyena but he has gathered a star cast here but whether they have been wearing the spandex suits or if they’ve just provided the voices. Serkis is so adept at this type of performance that it really comes through as it did with his version of Gollum, King Kong and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes franchise but the others don’t match him. Though the animals are impressively rendered and for whatever reason they don’t seem as photo realistic as those seen in the Jon Favreau version of The Jungle Book.
Mowgli is a decent, sincere but very dark version of the story and it makes a refreshing difference to see a back to basics version of the story which we all like to think we know with the Disney version so vivid whereas Mowgli is far nearer the truth (there was no King Louie for instance and the alleged racist elements thrown at that version which you can read here). Serkis film has been around for a while awaiting a release which was delayed by almost two years after the phenomenal success of The Jungle Book it’s shame that it didn’t come out before. Though it’s had a brief theatrical release its been bought up by Netflix where TV will diminish some of its power. It’s certainly not for young kids but is nonetheless worth a look for anyone else.
Here’s Andy Serkis introducing the film at the London premiere…..
Here’s the trailer for Mowgli…….