There’s just no way to watch Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle on Netflix and not think about its Disney counterparts — animated or live-action. Especially since the latter came out only two years ago and impressed us with its remarkable visual effects and dynamic soul.
Although the latest adaption, directed by Andy Serkis, is decidedly closer to Rudyard Kipling’s writings, its dark and dull mood makes Mowgli entirely unsuitable for kids and a slog for adults to sit through. Pretty much like the scene where an exasperated Mowgli spells out his identity crisis, ‘I am not a man neither am I a wolf’, the movie just cannot find a middle ground between morality and murk.
Stuck somewhere between realism and exaggeration, the animals don’t quite look themselves but wayward illustrations that distract way more than they delight.
Pity, given the talent on board — Serkis as Baloo, Benedict Cumberbatch as Sher Khan, Christian Bale as Bagheera and Cate Blanchett as Kaa. (Blanchett’s sultry voiceover triggers a serious Galadriel déjà vu only this time it’s Mowgli not Frodo who holds the key to the future.)
Ditto for the Hindi dub: Anil Kapoor (Baloo), Jackie Shroff (Sher Khan), Abhishek Bachchan (Bagheera) and Madhuri Dixit (Nisha) sure sound like they enjoyed the gig. Kareena Kapoor’s sleek, slithering rendition of Kaa is a revelation.
Unfortunately, what comes across is a pedantic translation instead of free flowing conversation.
It’s a familiar story.
A wrathful tiger’s onslaught leads to an orphaned man cub and his unusual adoption by a pack of wolves, a panther godparent and bear teacher. A special connection between fellow misfits — an albino runt and moss-covered elephant underscores his perpetual angst. The lawless bandar log, a clairvoyant python and sycophantic hyena add to the assortment.
The point behind this predominantly anthropomorphic circus is to inquire if a human can ever become animal enough to survive the laws or the jungle.
Motion-Capture legend Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Ring Trilogy, Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy) mulls over it superficially across a series of escapades in which Mowgli (a tepid Rohan Chand) competes for acceptance in the society he has grown up with and the one he never knew.
So Freida Pinto shows up sporadically to smile and bathe the boy in Saira Bano’s Shagird wardrobe. A hunter, all cruelty no character (Matthew Rhys) probes into Mowgli’s clueless presence. They all play Holi to suggest The Jungle Book‘s Indian (read exotic) setting.
Such pursuits would fascinate if Serkis wasn’t so gratuitously brutal and brooding about it. The harshness he means to convey provides out-of-context imagery befitting a horror movie.
A worn-out fantasy of shallow wisdom and unspectacular effects, perhaps it is time to close the book on the Mowgli legend.