The young boy of Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves, along with a panther and a bear. It is this movie that explores the boys’ struggle of figuring out who he truly is and where he belongs in the world.
As opposed to the more light-hearted take of “The Jungle Book,” released in 2016 directed by Jon Favreau, director Andy Serkis decided to tell his side of the story through darker means. His direction compared to the last shows more talent and ambition in the project which I can respect. This movie shows that this movie is more of a direct adaptation from the original work made by Rudyard Kipling. But I will say that the dark direction doesn’t lend itself fully.
While do I like the concept of the dark approach, the execution of that approach needed to be worked out better. The movie’s dark tone would switch to a light tone at times and it would feel jarring. Also, the dark tone would seem to go a bit too far, up to a point where it makes the story seem kind of tasteless and dull. It would almost seem like the movie was trying to push to be darker, just for the sake of being a darker interpretation of “The Jungle Book.” The character of Bhoot, an albino wolf cub, is killed by the main hunter and his CGI severed head is put on display, causing Mowgli to burst into tears. That dark scene didn’t offer any emotional support due to the fact of this movie not giving enough screen-time with this particular character.
Speaking of the characters, now I will say in terms of cast, I think that this movie does have a pretty good cast. They all do well in their roles, albeit, Christian Bale’s voice work for Bagheera (Black Panther), does echo the Dark Knight with the raspy, growly voice. Now I understand the Disney interpretations of these characters are way softer and more light-hearted than the book’s or this movie’s interpretations. But Disney’s take on those characters worked well for the story and tone that those versions are delivering. Though I have to say if I were watching this with a fresh mind knowing nothing at all about “The Jungle Book,” I don’t think I would describe the characters good enough because this movie doesn’t do well at giving enough development for them. What the film’s tone does is give us characters, in my eyes, mean-spirited, dull, and uninteresting. I did do some research and the characters personalities are supposed the reflect the original source material, but for this movie, it didn’t work. The characters needed to at least show some shred of understanding and happiness to make you care for what is going on.
The visual effects in this movie I did like to some extent. At times it can be pretty good, pretty detailed, and the animal models themselves are a stylized-look to them compared to a more realistic approach of Favreau’s version. But there are also times where the CGI can be pretty obvious and be rather unconvincing.
In terms of the human characters, much like the animal counterparts, there was hardly any time spent with them, but for them, it is worse. You have this one woman played Frieda Pinto, who has her name on the poster. But she hardly contributes anything as I think she only utters a few lines throughout the whole movie. Then there’s the hunter, who once again, there was hardly any character to him. But there is one scene toward the end that delivered an unintentional laugh from me. It was when the hunter was trying to shoot down Shere Khan during the climax, though he doesn’t realize, at all, a ginormous, raging elephant charging right him. The clueless hunter gets what he deserves and is flung backward by the angry elephant. How in the world could he not focus his attention on the humongous elephant?
Mowgli’s journey of discovering who he is and trying to become a member of the wolves was not too engaging. It came off pretty cliche and generic. He tries to run as fast as the wolves but he just can’t due to him being a man-cub and there being stereotypical wolf bullies to harass him. He, of course, loses the initiation process of entering the wolf pack due to Bagheera stupidly interfering. He gets sent to human society because that’s the place the animals feel is where Mowgli truly belongs. But he will soon realize the faults of man and come back to the jungle as a hero. Also for a boy who has been living in the jungle for most of his life, he sure has clean teeth.
The film’s pacing, much like the tone, was kind of all over the place. The first half of this movie seemed to go by faster than normal. Scenes were just coming and going with not enough time for development. Then the movie’s pace tends to slow down in the second half, where the movie gives time for Mowgli to adjust to human society. Who feels that this is where he truly belongs and that he doesn’t belong in the jungle anymore until he coincidentally sees his best friend Bhoot’s severed head. The climax itself is nothing too special, outside of the hilarious bit with the hunter.
The movie’s dark and truer approach of the story may warrant interest in people, but in the end, they may very well be turned off by the whole experience. Serkis’s direction is here and there is some good that I can see trying to come through. Though the mean-spirited nature, the uninteresting characters, and the non-engaging plot leave a lot to be desired in this semi-pretty/visual movie.