Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a dark, but surprisingly commendable, re-imagining of The Jungle Book


I suppose in this new age of a constant stream of shiny live-action remakes of childhood favorites, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the cover of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle looking up brightly at me from Netflix’s newest original releases. But I was.

However, considering the vivid childhood memories I possess of rewinding back through my VHS copy of The Jungle Book just to play it right back over time and time again, I was more excited than surprised at the sight of the remake.

The Netflix original is the second live-action adaptation of the Disney classic The Jungle Book to release in recent years. As such, it follows the same storyline as the classic, telling the story of Mowgli (Rohan Chand), a human raised by a wolf pack in the jungle who consequently struggles with acceptance and identity as his jungle friends urge him to return to his own kind in light of the tiger Shere Khan’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) murderous desires.

The movie opens with an off-putting, attempt-at-sinister narration, obliterating my expectations in the first thirty seconds. However, following this odd narration was Mowgli’s entrance into the jungle, which consisted of an adorable baby plopped in the jungle with a bunch of adorable, CGI-enhanced animals, softening me up a bit to enter the movie with a bit more of an open mind. But I was in for another jarring moment.

I was waiting for my favorite character to make his live-action debut, but when Baloo (Andy Serkis)- Mowgli’s bear friend- appeared on screen, shedding his sweet, endearing Disney appearance for a more weathered, crass look as the wolf cubs’ mentor, I knew I was in for a much darker reimagining of the beloved film of my childhood.

This epiphany was certainly supported as the movie progressed, showcasing wretched sound effects, a bit of gore, and heavy plot devices and themes to earn it a solid PG-13– a bit of a pivot from the innocent Disney film.

In short, it was much more ominous than expected, partly because this version takes much more inspiration from the original Junge Book novels of Rudyard Kipling rather than Disney’s charming retelling.

Though I’m not sure where the content and rating leaves this movie’s target audience–because Mowgli is definitely not fit for kids–I surprisingly appreciated the artistry and depth of the maturity. I thought I would resent the tarnishing of my childhood favorite, but the more I think about it, the more I revel in the profundity and execution of the transformation.

The plot itself submerges a little deeper in complex themes of acceptance, loyalty, good and evil, human destruction, and more. Additionally, characters other than just Mowgli are allowed more development, complete with arcs and origin stories.

Besides simply more sophisticated storytelling, these added elements result in an elevated emotional value. With minimal embarrassment, I’ll admit that CGI-manufactured animals moved me to tears. A heavier plot means higher stakes and more tangible emotional connections, which certainly rang true for the bonds forged between Mowgli and his wolf pack. Though for me, the interspecies friendship and fierce protectiveness between Mowgli, Baloo, and Bhageera the panther (Christian Bale) were by far the most touching.

With names like Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale, and Cate Blanchett, Mowgli certainly bears a star-studded cast. I must commend them and the acting prowess they exhibited under unconventional circumstances. To create the animals, each actor underwent the “motion capture” process, in which the actors’ facial expressions are projected onto real animals. Though at times the too-human-like animals were a bit unnerving, it is an impressive method and an impressive feat on the actors’ part, especially considering how moved I was by their performances.

Overall, despite poor reviews, I actually liked Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. While it’s a bit unorthodox and definitely not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate the uniqueness. The departure from the well-known classic is intriguing; the all-grown-up version of this story made for gripping suspense, poignant emotionality, and stirring themes. I respect the ambition of that departure and its skillful cinematography and performances.

So I actually didn’t mind, and even enjoyed, the twist on my favorite movie to watch on VHS as a child– even if I was aching for Baloo to break into a chorus of “Bear Necessities.”