Mowgli delivers on its promise as a "darker retelling" of Rudyard Kipling's classic novel. There are no jubilant songs and dancing animals here. Mowgli is a fierce, bloody story of survival and belonging. Director Andy Serkis, Hollywood's king of motion capture performance, takes his formidable skills to the next level. Mowgli envelops you in the lush, fly-covered world of beast and man. It is spectacularly immersive, a vivid journey of a boy's transformation into a warrior.
Mowgli begins with the ruthless tiger, Shere Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch) slaughtering humans in the jungle. As he devours a woman, her infant is left crying in the woods. The panther, Bagheera (Christian Bale), rescues the man cub by taking it to the wolf pack. The child is adopted by Nisha (Naomie Harris), who raises Mowgli as one of her own. The ancient python, Kaa (Cate Blanchett), keeper of the jungle's history, watches the man cub with great interest.
Rohan Chand stars as Mowgli the boy. Long-haired and dirt-covered, Nisha always licks him clean after a day running with the pack. He and the other cubs are under the strict tutelage of the bear, Baloo (Andy Serkis). They must prove their worth as hunters to remain with the pack. The jungle is under threat. Shere Kahn has returned and is killing cattle. The human villagers are encroaching further every day. They hire a hunter (Matthew Rhys) to kill the vicious tiger. Mowgli faces a stark decision. Stay with his adopted family and face death, or join the humans, turning his back on the jungle forever.
Mowgli's opening scene gets you ready for a darker version of The Jungle Book. As Shere Kahn kills and leaves the blood covered baby, Disney's happy-go-lucky "Bare Necessities" vanishes from your brain. This is the merciless jungle. Mowgli, who runs on all fours until Baloo teaches him to climb, struggles daily to survive. He's nicked, bloodied, and bruised constantly. His scrawny body covered in the scars of jungle life. But he is not unhappy. Mowgli's relationships with the pack, Baloo, and Bagheera are fulfilling. He doesn't see himself as a man.
Mowgli's return to the human village is shocking. He is a feral creature, dirty, and terrified. Andy Serkis does a great job portraying the lives of the Indian villagers. Their Hindu culture and customs are omnipresent. The film is not whitewashed. Mowgli's understanding of man grows with wonder and anger. No creature in the jungle kills for sport. He is horrified by the hunter's trophies. Mowgli finally realizes the true danger of man. The script by Callie Kloves is loaded with character growth. Mowgli's search for acceptance is not a black and white choice. He must have a foot in both worlds. The character arc is brilliantly executed.
The CGI animation and motion capture performances are flawless. Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Caesar in Planet of the Apes, and Snoke in (Star Wars}, imbues passion in every character. As an actor and filmmaker, he knows how to bridge that cold divide between technology and emotions. I was enthralled by Mowgli's interactions with the environment and animals. The film is on par with Serkis' best work.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle was a big-budget production from Warner Bros., slated for worldwide theatrical release. The studio sold the film to Netflix, making it the biggest acquisition yet for the streaming service. Netflix will release Mowgli in theaters on November 29th for a limited run, then online globally on December 7th. The visual effects, action scenes, and incredible storytelling warrant a trip to the theaters. See this film in 3D and experience a thrilling jungle adventure.