Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (on Netflix) realism and violence makes it a truer version of the Rudyard Kipling The Jungle Book stories than the sanitized Disney versions.
Though not quite Darwinian, The Law of the Jungle does rule here and is verbalized quite frequently by the wolf pups and Baloo the Bear (voiced with rambunctiousness and performed by motion capture maestro Andy Serkis, who also directs).
Serkis brings a lived in look to his animal creations. There is a patina of rugged fury, struggles won and lost, even hints of past famines and starvations to all the adult animals here.
The sense of real life and death stakes at play is etched in the off putting creature faces that echo hints of the voice actors playing them. There is a touch of Serkis’ wounded angry Caesar from the Planet of the Apes; a world weary Dark Knight In Christian Bale’s Bagheera the Panther; Cate Blanchett’s haunting, hissing, harrowing multi-possessions from Suspiria in Kaa the snake; Khan’s wrath and fury in Benedict Cumberbatch’s parallel named Shere Khan the tiger.
There is a muddiness, a glow of filtered gritty earth and aching healing sunshine to the cinematography and the set design. The added naturalism and brutality allows for more depth, genuine conflict, well earned wisdom and maturity.
Mowgli can be bewildering for those weaned on and expecting another Disney version. For those wanting something truer to the Kipling vision, Mowgli is a grand and rewarding spectacle mercifully sheared from some of its imperialistic overtones.
All photos and videos courtesy of Netflix.