Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Already in production before Disney announced their desire to release a big-screen adaptation of their classic animated film, Mowgli is a movie unafraid to take big risks in terms of computer animation and plotline, but the result is a strange and offbeat film without any deeper messages.

When the ruthless Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) dispatches young Mowgli’s parents, he’s left to fend for himself in the jungle until the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) rescues him and takes him to the wolf pack. Years later, Mowgli (Rohan Chand) struggles to find his way amid his animal family. A bear, Baloo (Andy Serkis), hopes to train him to survive the jungle test, in which he either fails and must find his own way in the world, or succeeds and joins the pack. He has never had a wolf cub fail… but Mowgli is no wolf cub. He's a man cub.

The tiger’s awareness of his place in the jungle leads him to threaten Mowgli. Fearing for his life, Bagheera hopes to influence him into seeking the “man village” for shelter. What unfolds is a familiar story at first, but it soon deviates into something darker and more morbid. The first thirty minutes are wonderful minus the odd merging of computer animation with people faces; the animals all have the human actor’s eyes and facial expressions, which makes them seem peculiar and surreal – not quite human or animal, but frankly, weird. The scenery is gorgeous and the music is good. The movie also establishes a back story for Baghera, which rounds out his character. I could not help wishing that Disney had managed to attract some of the plot twists and cast members for their live-action film, since it's a star-studded list.

I didn’t like the dark twist this took, in establishing Mowgli as someone without a moral conscience who uses underhanded tricks to achieve murder; and I loathed what befell one of the wolf cubs – a cheap emotional tactic for shock effect. That particular plot twist also shows the holes in the script, since there is no build up to the event, no notice of the cub’s absence, and no resolution in terms of him being bullied. The film draws no distinctions between the brutality of the animal kingdom, which has an “all or none” mentality (either you’re strong enough to run with the wolves or you die) and the white hunter (Matthew Rhys) who comes to the jungle to bag specimens. The undercurrent is all evolutionary survival of the fittest, without much nuance or depth to the characters. It relies on brutality and cruelty to get its point across, which makes it too traumatic for children to watch (the wolves try and rip each other apart, we find a wolf cup’s head severed and stuck on a pike, and Shere Khan is brutalized and ganged up on by elephants before Mowgli stabs him) and not necessarily appealing to adults due to its subject matter.

Frankly, by the time it ended, I hated it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, especially animal lovers.

      
Sexual Content:
None.
 
Language:
A few mild profanities.
 
Violence:
A tiger mauls people to death (off-screen). When he drinks from a pool of water, the blood on his chin turns the pool crimson. Wolves attack each other, intent on ripping each other apart to claim positions of power. A panther chases down a child and gives the impression he might kill him. Wolves bully another cub, knocking him down, biting him, and calling him mean names. We see a wolf cup's severed, stuffed head on a spike. Mowgli gets the elephants to beat up Shere Khan (knocking him around and kicking him) and to kill a man. He ends the tiger's life with a dagger to the skull (below camera). Animals are shown hunting other animals; we see a deer die.

 
Other:
SPOILER. Mowgli is intentionally cruel to his "best friend," but never has a chance to apologize, as the next time we see the wolf cub, he's been murdered. There's no kindness or compassion anywhere. It's a very bleak, violent tale.