Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Andy Serkis’ take on the classic Jungle Book story has arrived on Netflix bringing with it some impressive visual effects, but also a meandering storyline. Come inside to read our full review to see if Legend of the Jungle is worth clicking on.
The road to Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book movie, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, has been a long and winding one. At one point in time, it was slated to come out the same year (albeit a bit later on) as Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book film for Disney (2016)...But it was pushed back. It was delayed again in 2017, saying they needed more time for the visual effects work to be polished.
When things seemed on track for the film to finally launch (we finally got a trailer!), another change happened and suddenly, Warner Bros. was offloading the film onto Netflix. For a little bit, it seemed as though Netflix wouldn’t even release the film until early next year, but it’s arrived in time for your holiday viewing pleasure.
Generally speaking, I love Andy Serkis and the work he’s done to promote motion capture technology, and the films he’s been in. As such, I was fairly eager to see what he did with Mowgli. I must confess, however, that I’ve never been a big fan of the Jungle Book. I appreciate the work Favreau did with his take on the story, but I still wasn’t all that excited by it. As such, I was mostly interested to see if Serkis could bring something different to the story to change my feelings on tale.
The end result is mixed bag. In many ways, Serkis is successful in giving the story enough of a twist to change things up, but there’s still a lot of the film that just doesn’t work. Let me try and break it down.
Mowgli follows the basic story beats most are familiar with at this point. Mowgli’s family is killed by the villainous tiger Shere Khan and he’s left abandoned in the jungle. He’s taken under the care of a pack of wolves, the panther Bagheera, and the bear Baloo. These aren’t exactly the characters you remember, however, as the film is a much darker take on the overall story. Baloo isn’t the lovable goofball, but instead a hard nosed teacher; grizzled and fearsome.
As Mowgli grows he must come to terms with the fact that he’s different and figure out where exactly he fits into this world. This forms the crux of the plot, but also brings about the film’s biggest problem; pacing.
The film doesn't seem sure exactly what story it wants to tell in its hour and 44 minutes, and thus dedicates a lot of time to various elements that seem superfluous in the grand scheme of things. Because of this, it feels almost like two films shoved together into one.
There came a point in the film where I thought the film was just about over. Things seemed to have wrapped up and come to a fairly decent stopping point...Then I glanced at the timeline to see there was still nearly 40 minutes left of the film. Here we have two issues. One, the pacing is off to the point where they're trying to cram another story element into the back half of the film. Two, the first half of film's the pacing was so off that it legitimately felt like I'd watched the entire movie when I'd barely crossed the mid-point.
Up to that point, I was really enjoying what was being presented, even though there were some issues. It’s presentation is solid and I liked the grittier approach (though it still seems good for kids). For the most part the visual effects are stunning, but there are moments, especially early on where the “uncanny valley” hits hard and pulls you completely out of the moment.
Once Mowgli arrives at the human village, the film shifts pace once again pretty drastically. In a short amount of time we’re supposed to believe he becomes accustomed to life with his own people, and accepted by them. Considering we spent way more time with him among the jungle animals and their laws/rituals, the sudden shift breaks the suspension of disbelief. As a result, the entire final act, which is supposed to tie things together thematically and feel epic, falls apart.
Couple this with tossing in a new character/villain reveal and a change in the group’s dynamic and it became incredibly hard to care about what was going on. This was especially frustrating when a moment came that should have been super emotional, but I couldn’t muster up much feeling about it simply because the pacing had thrown everything out of whack.
It was pretty disheartening because there are plenty of things I enjoyed about Mowgli. I enjoyed the characterizations of the animals (more than in the traditional story) and the overall themes it presented. Sadly, it’s mired by the poor pacing and inability to figure out exactly which story it wants to tell.
I think Netflix is a good spot for the film, however, and might reach a bigger audience than if it'd followed through on a theatrical release. I can tell you now, if I'd spent money on a ticket to see it, I'd be even more frustrated. As it stands, it's a perfectly fine choice for an evening when you're not sure what else to watch.