It was only two years ago that we saw a live-action Disney film based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book so when the trailer for Andy Serkis’ Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle dropped, many, including me, had the same question, ‘Do we need another film on The Jungle Book?’ In the past, we have all seen various adaptations of many popular stories and while each adaptation is a unique take, the comparisons are bound to happen. Here too, comparisons always stay at the forefront and mainly because this adaptation is vastly different from what we have seen before.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle starts with an infant sitting all alone in a jungle where he is discovered by Bagheera and after much deliberation, the pack of wolves decide to make him one of their own. But life isn’t all fun and games for this man-cub and his problems are more internal and existential in nature than just fighting against Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). Bagheera (Christian Bale) and Balloo (Andy Serkis) are his constant companions but unlike the good cop-bad cop behaviour we have gotten used to, the two are tough taskmasters for the boy. Balloo and “Bare Necessities” have been synonymous since the 1967 Disney animated film but the Balloo we see here, is not the adorable bear who loves honey but a sergeant-like-figure who is focused on preparing Mowgli for the tough life of the jungle.
Here the man-cub Mowgli is not just dancing around with his wolf brothers but is instead struggling with deep existential questions about where he belongs. Much of the film explores questions like identity and the place where Mowgli should be, the jungle or the village. It’s time for him to leave the jungle and accept fellow humans as his own but as he puts it, he is not a man but neither is he a wolf. The conflict here is not Mowgli vs Shere Khan but Mowgli the human vs Mowgli the wolf. This version of The Jungle Book is not meant for kids but is an introspective piece on finding one’s identity.
Andy Serkis is known for his craft with performance capture and in his directorial venture, he pays attention to all the little details. Be it the injured foot of Shere Khan or the pain on Bagheera’s face when he tells Mowgli to leave the home he has grown up in, this hybrid between performance capture and animation works wonders for the film. The music by Nitin Sawhney uses a lot of instruments that are usually associated with India, like the flute. But in places, Nitin goes a little overboard and we consciously feel like this is the work of an outsider who is trying too hard to remind us that the film has Indian roots.
In terms of the performances, the voice cast puts their best foot forward. Christian Bale as Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, Andy Serkis as Balloo, Naomie Harris as Nisha, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan are all top notch. Frieda Pinto appears only for a few scenes and doesn’t create an impression. Rohan Chand who plays the titular character Mowgli has an innocent expression throughout. While he looks at the human village with a ton of questions in his eyes, you feel bad for the boy who is clearly caught in a dilemma.
This film is nothing like the “Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai” jingle so it does feel a little jarring as the characters feel grown up and alien in some places. If you plan to watch this, go in with a blank slate. There’s hardly anyone in India who knows nothing about the world of Mowgli, so impressing the Indian audience is going to be a battle. Overall, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a ‘different take’ on a classic tale which could have been a landmark had it been a little crisper and engaging.