By Chic DiCiccio
Here’s a word you wouldn’t expect to see regarding a movie based on a Rudyard Kipling book: traumatizing. That word isn’t being used from a child’s perspective either. “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” will not only make you quite sleepy, it will leave your retinas permanently scarred with a shockingly depressing image.
It’s kind of a shame because director Andy Serkis’ take on Mowgli is definitely ambitious. It’s not as safe as Disney’s 2016 “The Jungle Book,” but it’s also not nearly as well-crafted or entertaining. The effects are easily the most important aspect of these films, and this Netflix release pales in comparison to Disney’s.
The effects would be easily overlooked if Callie Kloves’ screenplay or Serkis’ direction had any semblance of heart. It all starts out great after black panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) saves young baby Mowgli from an attack that leaves his parents dead. For some reason, the perp behind said attack, Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), is hellbent on eating Mowgli because he also ate his parents and there are jungle rules or some such.
A pack of wolves adopt Mowgli (Rohan Chand) and he learns the ways of wolf life from Baloo (Serkis). Now, why a big ole bear is teaching wolf pups how to be grown is a head scratcher, but hey, jungle rules and stuff. Naturally, Mowgli can’t keep up with his wolf siblings and he’s eventually cast out of the pack.
Mowgli takes refuge in a nearby human village where he is placed in a cage and ridiculed by other children. The village’s hired gun, John Lockwood (Matthew Rhys), watches after Mowgli, but his horror-filled menagerie of dead animals proves that he’s no better than the evil Shere Khan.
Serkis and company contrast the terrible nature of both man and jungle so blatantly that it feels like being hit over the head with a ball-peen hammer.
Why would Mowgli want to go back to the family who threw him out simply because he couldn’t run fast? Why would he want to stay with humans who kill animals for sport? It all gets so murky that you’ll end up rooting for neither side since everyone is fairly, well, terrible. Mowgli included.
That is also a huge problem. Chand, who was so fantastic in Jason Bateman’s “Bad Words,” is a bit of a whiner. Another issue is that Serkis’ Baloo comes off like a mean drill sergeant and not the lovable, huggable bear from past tellings. In fact, there’s nary a character in the entire movie who brings any joy or brevity to these dour proceedings.
And those monkeys. My goodness, are they creepy. They are so disturbing to look at that it could ruin funny monkey video YouTube forever. And for some insane reason, everyone calls them “the monkey people.” It’s just another strange piece of a very strange movie.
Serkis definitely has the skill and the eye to create a great motion capture film, but “Mowgli” is surely not it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making this type of movie darker than normal, but it simply can’t be almost two hours of doom and gloom.
To make matters worse, it’s quite violent and bloody and could scare the beegeejus out of most kiddos.
In short, “Mowgli” is too frightening for youngsters and too depressing for adults. There’s really not much of a market for movies like that and Netflix has yet another bomb on their hands.