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Movie Review

Some kids just act like they've been raised by wolves. Mowgli actually was.

Mowgli was just a baby when the evil tiger Shere Khan chowed down on his parents. The tiger would've eaten the kid, too (because that cat Shere Khan eat!), had it not been for some quick thinking by the black panther Bagheera and some ridiculously kind wolves. Forget ringing the dinner bell, as most wolves would've done on seeing an unprotected infant sitting next to their den (and if they had a dinner bell): These wolves instead adopt the lad and raise him as one of their own.

And so Mowgli grows up as a wolf. Sure, he's not as furry as his brothers and sisters. Or as fast. And while he does have far more opposable thumbs than the rest of his family, that's hardly reason to brag. But his mom and pops love him dearly, and the wider wolf pack protects him for years against that slavering anti-Hobbes, Shere Khan.

But here's the thing: For the pack to continue to guard the hairless man-cub from his ravenous enemy, he'll actually have to become a member of said pack. And to do that, he'll need to succeed in something called "The Running," a rite of passage all wolves go through: "In the jungle we all hunt, and we are all hunted," says the bear Baloo, official wolf tutor. In The Running, adolescent wolves are "hunted" by the lethally svelte Bagheera. If they evade him, they're in the pack. If they don't, well, they might as well pack out.

Mowgli wants desperately to succeed in The Running and to become part of the pack. "All I've ever wanted, my whole life, is to be a wolf," he says. "For the others to see me as an equal."

But Bagheera fears that for Mowgli to be truly safe, he'll need to say goodbye to the wolf in him and become a man—using those opposable thumbs for something more than twiddling. And as much as he cares for the little boy—because he cares so much, in fact—the panther will do everything he can to catch him.

Positive Elements

Netflix's Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle focuses on the titular character's sense of separation from both of the worlds he belongs to. "Not quite a wolf, not quite a man, or neither, or both," the massive snake Kaa hisses. The divide that Mowgli feels is a source of great consternation to him for much of the movie. He deeply desires to fit in, and he reaches a point where his wolf-mom's insistence that he's "special" feels hollow and trite—something comforting mothers say because, as Mowgli says, "you came out wrong."

But Mowgli is indeed special, and many of the jungle inhabitants believe that he might be the key to protecting them and saving their way of life. He doesn't always make the best decisions, but he exhibits a great deal of courage and loyalty to his animal family.

As you might expect, Mowgli's shown a great deal of kindness by lots of jungle inhabitants (because otherwise the kid wouldn't have lasted an hour). Mowgli's adoptive mother and father love him in their own wolfy ways. Bagheera guides and protects him. Baloo teaches the boy to the best of his ability. And when Mowgli gets into a pickle or two, the latter two risk their lives to protect him.

Other jungle inhabitants help Mowgli, too, including Kaa, the snake, and a massive elephant. Speaking of which …

Spiritual Content

Those latter two creatures, Kaa and the elephant, take on totemic, near mythical dimensions in Netflix's version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Kaa is painted as something like the jungle's protective spirit—one who can see into the past and future and who serves almost as a reptilian shaman, mysterious and fearsome. The elephant, so old as to be covered in moss, feels even more elemental here: His rivalry with a white hunter seems intended to represent a primal, metaphorical war between the wild and civilization.

The jungle's animals seem to have some sort of belief in the soul: Bagheera tells Mowgli that after a kill, you should look the animal right in the eye, "so that the soul doesn't depart alone." He refers to hunting as "sacred"; and other creatures often talk with spiritual import, discussing the "sacred" laws they should never violate. (Shere Khan violates these laws all the time, though.) They're not big fans of man's use of fire, either. "Your kind uses dark magic, man-cub," one tells Mowgli.

We see obvious signs of India's dominant religion, Hinduism. We see what appears to be an idol outside a village; and men and women participate in Holi, the Hindu festival of colors. It's noted that cows are especially sacred to humans: Jungle creatures are forbidden from killing animals that belong to men, but especially cows. (Pish, Shere Khan says.)

Sexual Content

None, unless you count the fact that Mowgli, who's about 9, runs around in a loincloth for most of the movie.

Violent Content

Forget Disney's 1967 cartoon version of The Jungle Book. Set aside the live-action version of 2016. Netflix's Mowgli is darker, grimier and far more bloody than either of its cinematic predecessors.

The story opens with an act of carnage: Shere Khan killing Mowgli's parents. While we don't see the actual killing blows (or bites) onscreen, the scene's pretty jarring and kind of horrifying. Later, when the infant Mowgli is brought before the pack, Shere Khan shows up and announces the man-cub is his: "I've already tasted its mother's blood," he says. And when his petition is turned away for the moment, Khan tells the wolves that they won't keep Mowgli out of his jaws forever: "The man-cub's blood will run down my chin."

Shere Khan's brutality comes up again and again. We see the mangled carcasses of cattle now and then—clearly the work of the tiger. And when Mowgli hides from the cat in a lake (while painfully holding his breath), the unknowing tiger laps at the water with a big, blood-covered tongue. (The blood clouds the water pink.) Later, he takes one claw and tears a gash down Mowgli's shoulder and arm—a wound Mowgli bears for the rest of the movie. Mowgli, perhaps naturally, bears some animosity: He tells the tiger at one point, "I will set your hide ablaze and watch you burn alive!"

But Shere Khan's not the only killer around. A grown man plays that role, too: The hunter keeps a taxidermied menagerie of critters he's killed (a wolf's head is mounted, a monkey floats in a jar of liquid), while a massive elephant tusk is propped beside the guy's bed. He brags that he's only missed one kill in his history as a hunter, and he shoots a couple of things during the film (at least one lethally).

Monkeys roughly pull Mowgli to their ancient city, knocking the kid out along the way. Bagheera and Baloo get into a bloody fight with said primates, and later they're shown sporting a variety of wounds. Someone stabs an animal a few times with a knife, eventually killing it. Bagheera drags a dead antelope to the pack as a sort of bribe. Animals hit and cuff other animals. Mowgli is sometimes knocked around and trampled by wolves. He practices hurling himself from one tree branch to another, but he painfully falls several times.

Animals chase Mowgli sometimes, and these hunts can be frightening (even when it's a friend doing the hunting). Kids throw rocks at Mowgli; in turn, he manages to knock the head of one of these children against the bars of a cage. The hunter shows off a scar that Shere Khan gave him. Mowgli falls into a pit and is almost skewered on the stakes placed below. A human is killed by an animal. Wolves attack their leader (in a bloody, changing-of-the-guard rite). Fire is used as a weapon. A hyena singes his own tail.

Crude or Profane Language

Wolves taunt Mowgli by calling him a "freak." We hear one arguable misuse of God's name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The hunter gets drunk, staggers into his hut and falls into bed. He also tipsily brags about his kills and his dead animal collection.

Other Negative Elements

Mowgli and his best wolf friend, Bhoots, are bullied (especially Bhoots, who's an albino wolf).

Conclusion

By the time it arrived (both in limited theatrical release as well as now streaming on Netflix), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle was nearly as old as the movie's own Mowgli. Development began in 2012 and cycled through a bevy of directors before it landed with Andy Serkis, the thespian best known for his motion-capture work in the Lord of the Rings (Gollum) and Planet of the Apes (Caesar) franchises. (He plays Baloo the bear here.)

Then, when production was well underway, Disney announced it was creating its own live-action remake of The Jungle Book. And who wants to go toe-to-toe with the Mouse House? The folks behind Mowgli bided their time as the 2016 version of The Jungle Book made nearly $1 billion worldwide.

Mowgli, which most viewers will likely see streaming on TV instead of in the theater, boasts a large potential audience, too. But Serkis himself understands that this darker, bloodier take on Mowgli's story won't be for everyone. "Ours was never going to be a bring-the-whole-family film," he told The New York Times. "We wanted to make it more visceral and have you be able to smell the jungle."

Maybe it's not the jungle we're smelling. More like … disappointment.

Mowgli is not just darker than its forebears: It's also murkier in terms of plot and purpose. And while some of its visuals are stunning, this jungle is still located in uncanny valley: There's just something off-putting about some of the talking CGI creatures we see.

I think this darker version lost sight of its intended audience, too: kids. While I can understand Serkis' impulse to bring more of Rudyard Kipling's original grit and grime to this latest retelling of his Jungle Book, the result is unfortunately way too bloody and frightening for the folks most likely to watch it.

Mowgli is an ambitious flick, no question. It tries to reach for greatness: But like Mowgli unsuccessfully jumping from branch to branch, it falls well short of the mark.

Real life can be a jungle too. Check out these suggestions on ways to help your children succeed in their passage through it:

Perseverance: How Your Kids Can Overcome Hardship

Manhood Is Not the Problem: Teach Your Sons to Be Men

Nurturing Your Child's Personality (Part 1 of 2)

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Rohan Chand as Mowgli; Matthew Rhys as Lockwood; Voices of Christian Bale as Bagheera; Cate Blanchett as Kaa; Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan; Naomie Harris as Nisha; Andy Serkis as Baloo; Peter Mullan as Akela; Jack Reynor as Brother Wolf; Eddie Marsan as Vihaan; Tom Hollander as Tabaqui; Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Bhoot

Director

Andy Serkis ( )

Distributor

Netflix

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 7, 2018

On Video

December 7, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

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