Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) Cover

For a movie that clearly aspires to say something unique through a classic tale, Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle stumbles hard when it counts. Sitting in both the director’s chair as well as playing the beloved character Baloo, Andy Serkis has produced a movie that has a pattern of finding hidden depths in its characters just before flattening them to the most boring two-dimensional representation possible.

I want to put out in front that Mowgli is an enjoyable film. Many of the characters feel fresh plus the writing strives to find interesting things to say by contrasting them against each other. If Andy Serkis hadn’t tried so hard to do something new this would have been a forgettable, though competent, remake.

Where Mowgli stands out most positively is in moments where it grants the characters great depth. There are a few times in which the dialog had so much punch that it hurt. It’s deeply unfortunate that everything that the film builds up is torn down and taken away by an ending that leaves a deep sense of dissonance with the rest of the work. Having all that depth yanked abruptly from you is jarring in a way that is palpable.

Supporting these beautiful characters is a talented cast delivering performances that stand out with the best parts of the film. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Kaa (the great snake) stood out as my favorite, followed by Christian Bale as Bagheera and Matthew Rhys as Lockwood the hunter.

As much as I love Andy Serkis, I just can’t stop myself from comparing his interpretation of Baloo to Phil Harris, or even more recently Bill Murray. It’s a completely different interpretation of the character that simply doesn’t sit right for me. That comparison isn’t favorable for me. I have to admit that this may simply be personal bias, as I grew up with Baloo’s depiction as a lovable goof in some of my favorite formative works. Given that, I don’t feel right stating that Serkis’ performance didn’t work for me without also noting that it isn’t possible for me to judge that performance fairly.

Despite all of its stumbles, Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle is enjoyable. If you’ve enjoyed the previous incarnations of the classic story from Rudyard Kipling, then you will likely find something worth your time here. Though it stumbles, it does so primarily because it tries so hard and it is paradoxically these very failures that make the film worth your time as opposed to resulting in a forgettably uninteresting remake.

Final Verdict:A film that comes so close to being very good before stumbling hard.