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  Mowgli The Bungle Book
Year: 2018
Director: Andy Serkis
Stars: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Peter Mullan, Jack Reynor, Eddie Marsan, Tom Hollander, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto, Rohan Chand, Keveshan Pillay, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Moonsamy Narasigadu
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Mowgli (Rohan Chand) was a baby, he was separated from his mother in the Indian jungle when the vicious tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) attacked his village; she was eaten alive, while the infant was rescued by the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale). He took him to a colony of wolves which he hoped would look after the child, but it took some discussion to agree that he should be raised by them along with the cubs. Baloo the bear (Andy Serkis) was given the job of taking Mowgli under his wing, and he did so with military style, whipping the boy into shape for life in the harsh conditions of the jungle, for the tiger was still out there, biding his time...

This was Andy Serkis's pet project for some years, an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic anthology of stories The Jungle Book that was going to be faithful this time, unlike the toned down version that Disney had made for the family audience, not once but twice (four times, if you counted the "grown up Mowgli" live action variant from the nineties, and the animated sequel the following decade). That was a problem that was deeply unfortunate, as the House of Mouse put out their own remake in 2016, precisely when the Serkis effort was ready to go since there would not be as much of an audience for what seemed like a non-official movie with an "official”" one on the market.

The Disney Jungle Book was part of their move to remake their properties with live acting and photorealistic graphics working in tandem, proving hugely successful in the process, their telling of Mowgli's yarn raking a cool billion dollars at the box office worldwide, at least. Serkis could not compete with that, so a compromise had to be sought, and two years later his film was effectively dumped on Netflix where it was guaranteed an audience, but not so much those who might have attended a cinema to see it, more or less because hardly anyone would have once word of mouth got around that it was not really suitable for the little kids Disney had aimed this property at.

But it could have been Serkis was making a rod for his own back in his approach, as for reasons best known to himself he decided to once again make Mowgli the focus, as in the Disneys, rather than have him part of an ensemble as he was in the source material. Then there was the animation; as the king of motion capture, Serkis could not exactly eschew that technique when it was the most everyone expected from him, yet while he had amassed a roster of famous faces, to hide them under frankly ugly CGI that was neither characterful nor appealing enough to want to spend almost two hours with came across as a mistake. Had the animated characters been more stylised, or caricatured even, there would have been an artistic motive to pursue this treatment, yet the whole look was too close to "straight to DVD in the previous decade".

Despite the live action footage being gathered from Indian locations, and South Asian performers like Frieda Pinto showing up, the choice of having the animals voiced with British accents cast a strange message given the history of colonialism, and not assisting much was how many of them sounded like Danny Dyer without actually being him (guess he was busy). Therefore you had an intermittently attractive looking movie when the camera was drinking in the landscapes or the Indian tribe's activities, yet looked pretty horrible otherwise, and the self-consciously "dark" methods of storytelling left you pondering if this was intended for adults, why make it look like this at all? Couple that with other missteps as Mowgli stuck in a cage for an interminable stretch of the running time and a relentlessly dour tone as if that would make it appeal to grown-ups, and you had a work trying to avoid Disney-fication reluctantly trying for the mega-studio's same, massive audience. That Serkis had spent so much of his life endeavouring to get The Jungle Book adapted to his satisfaction, only for it to turn out like this unimpressive item, was a genuine shame, but he was too driven to let it hold him back for long, thankfully. Music by Nitin Sawhney.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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