Andy Serkis finally in the Jungle
It was supposed to mark Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. A natural progression of his motion-capture expertise so vividly on display in King Kong, The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes trilogies. However, when Disney’s rival project got the jump on him, he decided to keep his adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved Indian jungle tales under wraps a little longer.
Fast-forward more than two-and-a-half years and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has finally made its debut – but not at the cinema. Instead, it’s available for all to watch on Netflix, although Serkis himself says screenwriter Callie Kloves’ take is ‘‘really not meant for young kids’’.
That’s immediately apparent with the appearance of the menagerie that surrounds young Rohan Chand. Baloo, Bagheera and the gang are all world-weary, battle-scarred characters, concerned as much about Shere Khan’s lust for power as the incursion of man into the sacred space. With its visceral nature and ever-growing sense of dread, this feels more like Watership Down (another project soon to arrive on Netflix) than any Jungle Book you remember.
There’s no doubt that some of the visuals and vocal casting are impressive. Christian Bale’s gravel tones are used to great effect for Mowgli’s initial mentor Bagheera, Serkis brings a surprising gravitas (complete with an accent straight from London’s East End) to the usually jovial Baloo, and Cate Blanchett is a perfect fit for the conniving Kaa. Shame the same can’t be said for the Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced Khan.
Something appears to have gone wrong in the visualisation for the tiger because I couldn’t watch him without thinking of Angelina Jolie’s Kung Fu Panda character Tigress.
And, despite Serkis’ desire to posit this as a reimagining of Kipling’s wider stories, it is hard not to compare it to Disney’s much-loved Jungle Books (both available on Stuff Pix). The Jungle Book from 1967 is a riotous, jazz-infused musical, memorable as much for Louis Prima’s King Louie (a creation the Mouse House invented themselves) as its perilous elements.
And while many were sceptical about their decision to travel back into the Jungle in 2016, Jon Favreau ( Iron Man) proved the doubters wrong. His take uses some seriously impressive CGI animals, spot-on vocal casting and breathtaking backdrops to tell a less free-wheeling story.