Netflix’s “Mowgli” more mixed blessing than legend

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Based on the writings of Rudyard Kipling, “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” is the latest film to give a “Jungle Book” story a spin. The film features some great visuals and very good voice work. But it’s also uneven and tonally inconsistent. While it’s clearly a labor of love for director Andy Serkis (yeah, that Andy Serkis) and, at times, is engrossingly entertaining, “Mowgli” is a frustratingly mixed bag.

“Mowgli” tells the tale of the title character, (Rohan Chand), who is abandoned in the jungle as an infant and raised by wolves. But the jungle is changing. Man is encroaching on the animal’s territory, and the presence of Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) spells trouble for the jungle denizens. Meanwhile Mowgli, coached by Baloo (Serkis) and Bagheera (Christian Bale), must deal with his origins and find his purpose in the drama that is the jungle.

Let’s start with the good. Chand is very solid as Mowgli. It’s a physical role and Chand really pulls off the role of the feral wild child. He’s buoyed up by good work from the supporting cast. Cumberbatch is suitably scary as Shere Khan. Serkis and Bale are also very good, giving us a couple different perspectives on father figures. Bale is particularly good in intimate scenes with Mowgli. Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing as Kaa the python and Freida Pinto shows plenty of feelings without uttering a word.

The film is also very pretty to look at. The jungle scenery is beautiful and some of the background vistas are as epic as you’ll see in the movies. The computer-generated characters don’t look completely photo-real, but they are very detailed and beautifully animated. At times, Serkis’s camera work floats through settings, giving the film a surreal, fantastical feel. Visually, this film works.

Unfortunately, “Mowgli” suffers from uneven pacing, inconsistent tone and scripting issues. The movie takes a little too long to get going, but it ends so quickly it feels a little like a cheat. The tone shifts from surreal to silly to frightening without really establishing an identity. It almost feels like you’re watching several different movies that were hacked down and pasted together into one story.

On top of that, “Mowgli” is full of side plots that get lost or just aren’t filled out enough to be satisfying. Plot strands involving a prophecy and elephants, in particular, really need fleshing out. I’m not sure if this is an editing or writing issue, but the movie could really use more story beats to help us understand what’s going on. Fifteen to twenty minutes of additional material would really help plug potholes in the story and give it a better flow, all without stretching the runtime too far.

One last thing: I’m not sure who the audience for this movie is. It’s a story about a young kid, so I don’t know that it’s relatable to adults or teens, yet it’s got some stuff in it that’s too scary for young children. Maybe this is a good family film as long as you’re there watching with your kids. Just be prepared for some nightmares.

You can stream “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” any time you want on Netflix.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.