“Mowgli: The most brutal reviews of Netflix’s new Jungle Book” is a headline you might see if you just google the search term “Mowgli.”
I had done so in order to open the IMDb page as a resource while writing my review of the new Netflix-released adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story of the little boy raised by wolves, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The character / public domain IP of Mowgli is less synonymous with Kipling in contemporary culture, more with Disney’s lovely 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book and its interminable 2016 remake by the same name.
There were also some live-action adaptations in the 1990s that nobody seems to care about anymore. Nobody will really care about Mowgli, either, in 20 years, but right now the consensus is that it’s a garbage movie and this week’s flogging target of film criticism. In other words, clickbait. Whatever. It’s unfortunately not very good, but it’s not the worst movie ever.
Andy Serkis — making his biggest leap as a director — has had Mowgli in development for years and years, since before the Disney live-action film’s 2016 release. It was his follow-up to his Apes trilogy, featuring multiple well-known actors doing motion-capture performances of the classic Jungle Book characters: Christian Bale as panther Bagheera; Cate Blanchett as the python Kaa; Benedict Cumberbatch as the ferocious tiger Shere Khan; and Serkis himself as Baloo.
Rohan Chand plays Mowgli (thankless but better cast than the 2016 Disney film, which never seemed that interested in its star character). Despite so much going on, Mowgli was continuously delayed again and again and again until being unceremoniously dumped on Netflix (and some Landmark theaters).
As soon as the film starts, it’s not hard to answer why such a big movie was thrown onto the modern equivalent of the VOD dumping ground. It feels half-finished. The CGI, in particular, just doesn’t blend well with … anything. The jungle is sometimes natural, sometimes CGI. The animals boast slightly ever-too-human faces. Poor Chand acts his best with partners who may or may not be present. It feels half-baked in the most utilitarian meaning of the term; you can just see every individual bit and piece of the visual frame in its component parts.
It’s also emotionally chaotic. Reviews have stated it’s a tonal mess with no clear audience. That’s correct. The movie follows the basic plot outline of The Jungle Book but makes everything more violent and “dramatic,” without justifying it. The “bad human” character is cartoonish. Kudos to Serkis trying to give the human characters some culture (which doesn’t really happen in the Disney adaptations), but it’s only a light dusting of something special. I don’t know why anyone would show their child this version of the movie or why any adult browsing Netflix would choose to watch this.
That’s it. Mowgli is basically a tech demo for Serkis’ CGI creations, but it’s an unfinished tech demo. There is nothing here.