dir Andy Serkis
scr Callie Kloves
prd Jonathan Cavendish, Steve Kloves, Andy Serkis
with Rohan Chand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Peter Mullan, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto, Jack Reynor, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Hollander
release US/UK 29.Nov.18
18/UK Netflix 1h44
All in the family: Chand and his wolf brothers

cumberbatch blanchett serkis
See also:
Jungle Book (2016)
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Mowgli Andy Serkis takes a more faithful approach to Rudyard Kipling's allegorical novel The Jungle Book, and yet his film will struggle in comparison to Disney's more crowd-pleasing 2016 version. The animals here are strikingly more expressive but, while the story has an edge to it that Disney sidestepped, the animation is more cartoonish by comparison. Still, Serkis much more adeptly captures Kipling's serious themes.

Tiger Shere Khan (Cumberbatch) has broken the law of the jungle by attacking humans, leaving a infant orphaned. Rescued by panther Bagheera (Bale) and raised by wolf Nisha (Harris), Mowgli grows up to be a young boy (Chand) who's unsure whether he's man or wolf. Mentored by Bagheera, the bear Baloo (Serkis) and wolf leader Akela (Mullan), he's now ready to properly join the pack. But Shere Khan returns to taste his blood, setting in motion a string of events that ends up introducing Mowgli to a local woman (Pinto) and a British hunter (Rhys).

The film looks terrific, with a superbly dense rainforest that's recreated with a combination of digital effects and location shooting. Chand has a loose physicality in the central role, lanky and appropriately awkward as he tries to resist his nature in favour of his nurture. And there are several properly disturbing moments along the way, with some scary violence, unsettling freak-outs and emotional gut punches. Mowgli's journey is pointed and resonant, never easy. What he sees in the human world is genuinely distressing.

Acted using detailed capture techniques, the animals are often startlingly lifelike. These are not just vocal performances, they include the physicality as well as facial micro-movements that reveal thoughts and feelings. Bale's Bagheera and Serkis' Baloo are the main characters opposite Chand, and both have a powerful presence. Cumberbatch's Khan is a bit of a one-note villain, literally out for blood, but the actor brings some texture as well. And Blanchett has a great time as the slithery, mesmerising narrator snake Kaa.

Kipling wrote this novel to express some powerful themes to children, and the film takes the same approach, never dumbing things down. There is some properly rattling nastiness along the way, plus a vivid sense of how it feels to be an outsider, both through Mowgli's eyes and also his albino wolf brother Bhoot (Ashbourne Serkis), who takes his own heart-stopping journey. Without ever preaching any moral messages, the film quietly makes its points about integrity and community. And these are things grown-ups need to hear too.

cert 12 themes, violence 23.Nov.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall