I distinctly remember not asking for this. I first heard about Warner Brother’s adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic when The Jungle Book was receiving raves. The difference was, this one used the remaining A-lister’s not utilized by the mouse. Promising a darker outlook on Mowgli, the movie did take a while to materialize (3 more years to be exact). Did this extra time help them successfully reinvent the wheel?
In simple words, no. Not really.
For starters, the obvious studio lighting tells you that this tale won’t be as polished as the one that came before it. If the evening shots of the fake landscape don’t jolt you out of the experience, the freakish animal designs will. Expect more slobber, goo, and flies. I will say this though, it is visually stunning and incredibly detailed – you can practically imagine the jungle stench sitting in your living room.
Apart from these niggles, how does the story hold up? Simply put, the plot is an unfocused mess. Majority of the first half is devoted to pointless world-building which goes nowhere. It is never really about the journey of the man-cub Mowgli, but more about the primitive “laws” of the jungle, or the non-sensical “code” of the wolf pack. Did you love Bagheera, Baloo, Akela, and Nisha in the previous versions? Get ready to dislike them now. Sequences designed to add depth to these characters are ineffective and go nowhere. The net result is this – while you may admire Cumberbatch’s baritone growls in Shere Khan, there isn’t much to fear from the long-faced, blue-eyed Bengal.
If you can, ignore the miss-steps of the first half, and settle in as the story finally manages to find its footing later on. The human village adds a much-needed change of scenery to plod the storyline along. Despite wasting the talents of Freida and Rhys, it almost manages to redeem itself completely.
Sadly, the final nail in its coffin comes in the form of a middling finale. It’s haphazardly put, and you’re right back where you started.
Trying to improve upon a near-perfect product requires great skill. Going dark for darkness’s sake will get you nowhere if what you’re ending up with suffers from scripting, pacing and design issues. For a movie with a runtime of 104 minutes, there are no real standouts here. Even the mo-cap veteran Serkis cannot one-up Murray’s grizzly. Don’t even know why they bothered including Cate’s Kaa. Honestly, what else did you expect from a flick that ended up in today’s direct-to-video equivalent?
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an adaptation that your inner child won’t like, and also, the cynic adult in you won’t enjoy.