Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle arrives on Netflix in December, with the film promising to offer an alternative angle on some well-loved characters. For many fans, the 1967 Disney animation remains the definitive realization of the characters from The Jungle Book. Jon Favreau’s 2016 adaptation traded some of the musical numbers for stunning visual effects, but ultimately acted as a remake of the 1967 animation. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle looks intent on carving out a path away from the 1967 movie, while retaining the charm of the characters that have thrilled generations.
Andy Serkis continues his burgeoning directorial career at the helm of Mowgli, with the actor’s portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series giving him a unique perspective on the effective use of motion capture. Serkis had the benefit of working with a stellar voice cast, using the talents of Christian Bale (Bagheera), Cate Blanchett (Kaa) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan) to create as realistic a depiction of talking animals as possible.
Favreau’s film set the bar high in that department, but some critics found that the narrative and tone lacked consistency. Remaking a classic film is always a daunting task; the new movie has to be sufficiently accomplished to justify its existence, while creating its own identity without disrespecting the source material.
There must be a worry for Serkis that audiences could become fatigued by exposure to the characters of The Jungle Book, although the director can find reassurance in seeing the film’s lore popularized in other media. A side-scrolling Sega game based strongly on the movie was released in 1994 to critical acclaim, with the passing of 27 years since the film was released not hindering the game’s popularity. Newer games similarly find inspiration in The Jungle Book; William Hill’s table games are classic casino fare but their jackpot slots adopt eclectic themes, with their Jungle Bucks game influenced both in name and imagery by ideas from the classic film.
The nighttime show The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic also thrilled audiences in 2016 at the Walt Disney World Resort. Characters with the charm of Mowgli and Baloo have truly stood the test of time, with their presence in shows and games explaining the desire to create so many Jungle Book films. Such is the pre-eminence of Disney that many people may well treat the animated film as the original telling of the story. Yet it should not be forgotten that these characters were first brought to life by Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories in 1894.
For obvious reasons, Hollywood blockbusters and Disney productions often tone down the darker elements of their source material. This is a criticism that has been levied at Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park, with the same true of The Jungle Book. The Netflix adaptation promises to deliver scenes imbued with menace, which is music to the ears of an audience that loves the characters but is perhaps less receptive to the jolly singing and dancing.
With Serkis declaring his ambition to show more of the human conflict that Mowgli has to encounter, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle should provide an intriguing side to the well-known tale. If the film is well-received, then expect Netflix to commission more projects that take a new spin on legendary stories.