Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a darker reimagination of the Disney classic The Jungle Book, following essentially the same plotline without the charm of the original films.
The movie starts with the familiar scene of Mowgli’s parents getting chased through the forest by Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), the fearsome tiger who has a deep-set hatred of human beings, dropping Mowgli (Rohan Chand) behind to be found by Bagheera (Christian Bale), the black panther.
Bagheera brings Mowgli to the wolves, whose leader Akela (Peter Mullan) decides to take him in despite Khan’s warnings. Mowgli’s presence drives a rift between the wolf pack, and Baloo (Andy Serkis)—the bumbling bear from the Disney version—is a stern-faced teacher of the wolves, training them to participate in the “Running,” a rite of passage for the wolves, where Bagheera hunts them. The Running is portrayed as very important early in the film: In order to hunt with the wolves, one must pass the Running. Mowgli is not as quick as his wolf brothers, and Baloo struggles to coach him.
The movie’s treatment of the Running, however, is confusing at best. Baloo says at one point that he has not had a single cub fail the Running, but once the Running begins, Bagheera tears through not only Mowgli, but the other cubs as well, knocking them down one by one. Even after that, however, it is implied that only Mowgli and his albino outcast wolf friend, Bhoot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), failed the Running, and they can try again, which makes the rules for the initiation process all the more unclear.
Mowgli also gets taken away by monkeys, who seem to be under the jurisdiction of Khan. Inexplicably, when Khan approaches Mowgli, all he does is threateningly talk to an unconscious Mowgli and scratch his shoulder, before a deus ex machina comes in form of Kaa (Cate Blanchett), the giant, omniscient python, and saves Mowgli.
The wolves’ leader, Akela, is getting old and fails a hunt, which, by wolf law, means that his pack has the right to challenge him for the place of leadership. Mowgli, distressed, finds fire and brings it back to the pack, scaring away Khan and the challenging wolves, but is cast out by Akela for violating the law.
A white Englishman finds Mowgli, and brings him back to the village. Declaring the tiger as their common enemy, Mowgli soon assimilates into village life and ignores the behest of his wolf brothers to help control Khan’s bloodthirsty behavior.
Mowgli goes to the elephant in the jungle, and promises the location of the Englishman in exchange of help getting rid of the tiger. With help from the other animals, Mowgli kills the tiger, and the elephant stampedes the English hunter, guaranteeing a lasting peace for the jungle.
The movie suffers from many inconsistencies, but the most pressing question centers around why the animals hadn’t just gotten rid of Khan before Mowgli. The final confrontation of the tiger was mostly just the different animals putting in the work, and considering that Khan had been disturbing the balance of the jungle for a long time, the animals did not need Mowgli to finally defeat the tiger.
The most disconcerting feature of the film is the expression of the animals. Although the computer-generated imagery was questionable to begin with, the animals appear to bear copy-pasted human faces with similarly human expressions, which is just uncomfortable. In addition, the animals all had lofty British accents, which fit with the self-important tone that the movie assumes but makes the depiction of the animals even more out of place.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle tries to be the grown-up version of The Jungle Book, but perhaps the story needs the cheerful overtones that Disney provides. Without the music and the bright colors, nothing distracts from the movie’s plot holes—quite simply, the aesthetic is just cold and dreary, creating an unpleasant viewing experience.
Featured Image by Netflix