Andy Serkis has delighted us for decades with performance capture art, a technique he’s mastered and perfected with characters like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Caesar in the reboot of "Planet of the Apes" and Snoke in the newest "Star Wars" films - to name a few. You may not know it by its name, but you surely have seen it used more and more over the past few years. Actors don spandex suits attached with numerous sensors and act their hearts out. No set design. Nothing flashy. The camera picks up their movements and expressions and translates that to their animated counterpart.
With "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle", Serkis makes use of his expertise and takes command behind the camera. This is the second retelling in two years, but it’s a very different film from its Disney counterpart.
Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is an orphan who falls into the unwitting care of a pack of wolves. He’s soon under the tutelage of a panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale) and a grizzled bear named Baloo (Serkis). As Mowgli begins to come of age, the elder creatures become increasingly concerned with the prospect of allowing a full-grown man to live amongst them. Mowgli must show his allegiance and help unite the jungle as the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) threatens to tear it apart.
In an interesting move and, no doubt, reluctant to compete with Disney’s live action, Jon Favreau-helmed adaptation of "The Jungle Book" from 2016 that grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide, Warner Bros. sold the rights to "Mowgli" to Netflix which is releasing the film concurrently on their site and for a limited time in local theaters.
In this reincarnation, Baloo doesn’t dance on a log and sing “Bare Necessities” and the soft, friendly faces of the jungle are replaced by dark, forbidding visages of wild creatures. It is all the things Disney doesn’t represent, setting this adaption far apart from its predecessor and making for a more interesting story. I have to imagine, however, it also makes marketing the film a nightmare. It isn’t suitable for children, which is the major draw for watching anything that was a classic animated film, and a film about a young boy and talking animals isn’t a natural choice for adults either.
But it is an interesting film that takes the original story and spins it on its head, tearing the veil off the rose-colored creatures who must come together so as not to succumb to their scary fire-bearing antagonists: humans. The effects are impressive and the acting is top-notch. Though the film isn’t breaking down walls by any means, it does offer a bloodier alternative to the classic Rudyard Kipling novel for those who like a little grit with their fairy tales.