From man-cub to legend: A review of “Mowgli”

by the Collected Mutineer

Let’s be honest. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) didn’t make very many headlines. This was a likely outcome, due to film fatigue. After all, the darker interpretation of the works of Rudyard Kipling came right off the heels of Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book (2016). While its original publicity touted its star-studded voice cast, the hype inevitably died down and the film became a Netflix release. But while that may have been seen as a downgrade once upon a time, akin to the “straight to video” releases from my childhood, Netflix is a completely different arena, producing well-received shows and movies. So where does that leave everyone’s favorite man-cub?

Netflix

Director Andy Serkis promised a grittier take on the stories about the orphan boy Mowgli who is raised by a wolf-pack, a panther, and a bear in the Indian jungle—and in that regard, the film delivered. In many ways it is closer to the original source material, drawing on themes such as captivity, inequality, and not-belonging. This isn’t the song-and-dance version(s) we’ve grown accustomed to. For some, such as myself, this is refreshing. The novellas by Kipling may be filled with talking animals and a sense of something not unlike magic, but underneath it all is an ache for finding one’s place in the world.

If you are familiar with the source material, you know that Mowgli’s life isn’t a happy one, particular as he grows up. He is not quite a man, not quite a wolf. He cannot fit into either world. Though he has the respect of both realms, he is essentially an outcast, waiting for true acceptance and love. It is a feeling many of us can understand, especially if we come from mixed backgrounds and cultures. Where do we fit? Who will accept us? Are we too much of one thing, and not enough of the other?

While these poignant commentaries are certainly important and relevant, there was something about the film that didn’t drive those points home. The script was solid and the performance delivered by Rohan Chand was spectacular. So what was the problem? Honestly, I felt distracted by the CGI animals. Maybe I was spoiled by the live action version from 1994, which used all real animals (sadly, they didn’t talk). Maybe I really did have film fatigue and was subconsciously comparing it to the most recent version from Disney. Whatever the issue, there was something a little off—and that’s a true shame, because I believe the messages within the film are monumentally important.

Should you see this film? Yes and no. Can you tell I felt conflicted? If you’re a Netflix fiend who watches everything they release, then sure. They certainly have worse films available. If you love happy movies, stick to the Disney version(s). After all, you can sing along and forget about your worries and your strife….but if you’d like to try something different, and you feel like CGI isn’t the end-all-be-all of the film, then give this movie a try. It may not contain the most stunning effects, but it certainly has something to say about how we relate to each other. (Bonus: there really are some amazing actors involved with this project—see how many you can guess without looking up who played who!)

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is available now on Netflix.

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