Jon Favreau made a hybrid live-action/animated Jungle Book that was really quite good, so much so it bagged him the job of directing the new Lion King, and also good enough that it threw Andy Serkis’s competing project into considerable shade. Back then Serkis’s project was called Jungle Book: Origins—and yes, it’s supposed to be a dark and gritty Jungle Book, as indicated by “Origins”—and it was supposed to be Serkis’s directorial debut (that honor ultimately went to Breathe). But with Favreau’s The Jungle Book riding a wave of critical praise, Warner Brothers pushed Serkis’s project back an entire year. And then earlier this year, Warners dumped what is now called Mowgli on Netflix. So, lots of confidence-building going on here. I’m sure this movie will be great.
Netflix has released a trailer, so we can get a feel for the bonus Jungle Book. It looks fine. I mean, the animals are taxidermy nightmares, but there are some nice touches, like Shere Khan and his broken foot. And the establishing shots are very nice. The voice cast is insane, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Naomie Harris. Of course, Favreau’s Jungle Book also had a crazy voice cast, so that’s a wash. (Although we can now compare Cate Blanchett’s and Scarlett Johansson’s performances as Kaa. First impression: I think I might prefer ScarJo.) Baloo, though, I don’t care for at all. He looks like a taxidermy bear that has been messed up by the tiny hands of a hundred sticky children. I am borderline frightened by Baloo.
As for whether or not this is, indeed, a dark and gritty Jungle Book, it’s impossible to tell. The Kipling story is pretty dark, and once you take out the bouncy Disney animation and upbeat songs, that natural darkness is prevalent. It’s not like Favreau’s version was so bright and cheery. Serkis is setting himself apart, though, by having Mowgli try to live in the human village. And he’ll have to protect the jungle from a big game hunter played by Matthew Rhys. So there are some unique plot elements. But it’s still just another Jungle Book, after we’ve already had a (good) modern update. I’m really not surprised Warners let this go to Netflix, especially since they’re already poised to take a year-end hit with Aquaman. The question is whether or not being able to watch from the couch will make anyone care about the haunted taxidermy and their latch-key kid friend.