Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The characters are crudely drawn in more ways than one.."

There's a rule that many filmmakers follow when it comes to animation, and that's never to work with the really cutting edge stuff. In the age of video games it's all the more tempting to do so if only to feel as if one is keeping up, but there's a big difference between rendering something well enough for PC game and making it work on the big screen. Failure to do so results in work that looks clumsy and outdated as soon as it comes out - work like Mowgli.

To be fair, the weaknesses in the animated characters here look worse because we see them mixed in with live action. They're not unlike the creations that Andy Serkis made work brilliantly in Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings films or the recent remakes of the Planet Of The Apes films but as a director he's not working with the same kind of budget and consequently there hasn't been enough time taken to finish the work. The result may still be sufficient to entertain the young audience at which it is aimed, but barely so, as there's not only a lack of realism but a lack to nuance in the characters' expressions.

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in its own way, this is fitting - the characters are crudely drawn in more ways than one. The knowing camp of Disney's Jungle Book has been replaced by something that is simply twee. The excellent voice cast don't seem to be trying, with every performance equally flat. The exception is young Rohan Chand as Mowgli himself. He's a real find, as confident opposite the to-him-invisible animals as he is in later scenes with humans, and he brings much-needed energy to the film.

To its credit, Callie Kloves' script tries to tackle some of the problems with Kipling's original work, undermining the trope of the white man as civilising influence and giving the environmentalist values espoused by many of the animals the platform they deserve in a changed world. It also takes a more realistic approach to the notion of a human surviving in the jungle than past productions, echoing David Yates' recent Tarzan - Mowgli can't run as fast as a wolf or climb as well as a monkey or fight a big cat, but has to use his ingenuity to succeed, something that will resonate better with young viewers trying to find their own place in the world. The boy-with-a-special-destiny theme is still present but is somewhat subverted by the reclamation of Kaa (voiced by Cate Blanchett) as a bearer of wisdom, taking a long view of what's happening in the jungle.

The story itself is told at a level well pitched for young children but parents should be aware that there is one scene concerned with the death of a young character which may cause distress. Otherwise this is a fairly tame and accessible version of the popular adventure tale, just nowhere near as good as it should have been.

Reviewed on: 30 Dec 2018
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Mowgli packshot
The story of a boy raised by animals who comes back into contact with humans as he grows up.

Director: Andy Serkis

Writer: Callie Kloves, based on the short stories by Rudyard Kipling

Starring: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis

Year: 2018

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: UK, US


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The Jungle Book