I can imagine director Andy Serkis and his team who are responsible for Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle sitting down and watching the first trailer, and months later the actual film, for Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book, expecting a fun and fully family-friendly feature and instead witnessing a much darker and more visually grounded picture than anyone could have expected.
You know, sort of like their movie, which was intended to be a more adult-oriented, darker and more visually grounded take on the classic tale.
I imagine there were multiple F-bombs proclaimed that day.
Two years and literally one billion dollars later, Serkis’ utterly redundant Mowgli arrives, not in theaters as originally intended (when owned by Warner Bros.) but on Netflix, a title that will almost assuredly get lost in the service’s vast content library within days.
It’s not that Mowgli is bad as much as it is completely unnecessary, a trying exercise of déjà vu that does little to establish how two Jungle Book adaptations were greenlit but two competing studios at roughly the same time (both movies were originally slated to be released in 2016, but Disney struck first).
Serkis had previously stated that his version would be darker and grittier, PG-13-rated and not for little children. But in reality, the tone of Mowgli is not that much darker as it is blander, lacking the energy and fun of The Jungle Book without any added substance to serve as a replacement. Mowgli has its moments, but it just kind of exists, an overly serious movie involving talking CGI animals.
The visual effects are pretty decent but not noticeably different than those from The Jungle Book; what stands out is how much uglier all of the characters are, most notably Baloo. If “darker and grittier” meant making the animals look as though they had just recently escaped from an illegal fighting ring, then Serkis accomplished his mission.
There is a reason that Warner Bros. sold Mowgli to Netflix, and that is because they couldn’t see any discerning differences from the critically praised The Jungle Book—other than Mowgli isn’t nearly as fun to watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.