Mowgli, a dark new retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, is now streaming on Netflix. Disney’s 1967 version of The Jungle Book was the sweet renowned animated classic featuring the bear Balloo’s “The Bare Necessities.” In 2016, Disney released a live-action retelling of the tale of an orphaned boy adopted by wolves and raised in the jungle with character-generated (CG) talking animals. The movie was a blockbuster, grossing almost $1 billion worldwide.
At the same time that Disney was working on its live-action version, another studio, Warner Brothers, was also working on adapting a new version from the same source material, titling it Mowgli. According to the Hollywood Reporter, lots of famous directors were in talks to direct it at different times, including Ron Howard.
Mowgli: Not for young kids
Ron didn’t take the job, and I understand why. Mowgli is just too disturbing and gritty for an audience that’s going to expect a family movie. In addition to watching the film, I’ve read a number of critic’s reviews, and we all agree: Mowgli is uneven, “muddled” in the words of Common Sense Media. At first, I was dazzled by the special effects bringing the talking animals to life. However, the animals are for the most part ugly and battle-scarred, seemingly worn out by the harshness of jungle living. The tiger Shere Kahn (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, who also voices this year’s The Grinch) is savagely evil.
The movie is rated PG-13, definitely not appropriate for any child under 12. I suppose if kids have been exposed to adult fare like The Walking Dead, maybe they won’t be too shocked. But small children will be positively terrified by this brutal retelling of The Jungle Book. I recommend revisiting one of the Disney versions for your family movie night.
A little more background
Netflix swooped in and grabbed the distribution rights for Mowgli, which was shaping up to be box office poison for Warner Brothers. Andy Serkis, a genius at motion capture, is the director and plays Balloo. You’ll know his work best as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings series. “This story is about identity. It’s about being other: Mowgli growing up as an other in the world of animals and trying to fit in and then in the world of man, and it takes place in both realms,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. An admirable vision, not fully realized because Mowgli can’t be both a gritty, bloody survival tale and a meaningful coming-of-age tale based on a bedtime story.
The most horrific moment in the movie is when an endearing character is revealed to have met his demise in a grisly way. There are no repercussions or life lessons at all coming out of this moment in the story, except that Mowgli weeps. The message seems to be that the jungle and life in general is an unforgiving place, and sometimes horrible things happen for no reason.