Legendary character actor and mo-cap aficionado Andy Serkis directs the second live-action Jungle Book story in two years, following Jon Favreau’s acclaimed 2016 effort.
Conceived roughly around the same time, Serkis is highly unfortunate that he was beaten to the chase. If you saw the Favreau version there may not be enough that’s new here to watch as well, although it does do a respectable job of differentiating itself.
While the essential story elements of Mowgli‘s (Rohan Chand) adoption by the wolves, estrangement from the pack and conflict with Sher Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch) are in place, it’s structurally rather different, with the roadmap from Mowgli‘s initial abandonment to his eventual victory taking a rather different path.
With many darker moments, Mowgli‘s estrangement from the wolves is deeper and more brutal, leading to his ultimately being re-adopted by the local humans. Baloo, best known as your cuddly, honey-loving pal who is satisfied so long as his basic requirements are met, feels a bit rougher, with an orcish cockney drawl voiced by Serkis himself.
This darker story makes more sense with the super-realistic CGI than the more family-oriented Disney version did. There are no songs here, that’s for sure. Chand does a good job as Mowgli, but the tale is so dark it might have worked better with a slightly older child of 12 or 13.
The graphics are equally as good as Favreau’s attempt. While the overall look of the film isn’t identical, it’s difficult to pinpoint any consistent ways in which it differs. It also benefits from an equally prestigious voice cast including Cumberbatch, Christian Bale and Naomie Harris. The highlight is Cate Blanchett as the mystical snake Kaa, and a scene in which Mowgli enters her lair and is encircled one of the best in the film, with the most seamless interaction of child and graphics.
Overall it shows Serkis is as proficient in storytelling as his is in jumping around in a blue bodysuit with LEDs on it.