Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a 2018 fantasy adventure film directed by Andy Serkis with a screenplay by Callie Kloves, based on stories collected in All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The film stars Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys, and Freida Pinto, along with voice and motion capture performances from Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, and Serkis.
Talks of a new Jungle Book film from Warner Bros. Pictures began in 2012 and various directors, including Steve Kloves, Ron Howard, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, were approached before Serkis was confirmed in March 2014. Much of the cast signed on that August and principal photography began in March 2015. Filming took place in South Africa and at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England.
Originally scheduled to be released in October 2016 by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film was delayed numerous times to work on the visual effects and to create space between itself and the April 2016 release of Walt Disney Pictures' own Jungle Book adaptation. In July 2018, Warner Bros. Pictures sold the rights for the film to Netflix. The film was released in select theaters on November 29, 2018, followed by its subsequent digital Netflix release on December 7, 2018. It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the cast, visual effects, and Serkis' passion for the project, but compared it unfavorably to the Disney film and criticized the uneven tone, calling it a "messy—if ambitious—misfire".
The story follows the upbringing of the human child Mowgli (Rohan Chand) by a pack of Indian wolves in the jungles of India. As he learns the often harsh rules of the jungle under the tutelage of a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis) and a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), Mowgli becomes accepted by the animals of the jungle as one of their own except for the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his follower Tabaqui (Tom Hollander). But there may be greater dangers lurking in the jungle as Mowgli comes face to face with his human origins.
- Christian Bale as Bagheera
- Cate Blanchett as Kaa
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan
- Naomie Harris as Nisha
- Andy Serkis as Baloo
- Tom Hollander as Tabaqui
- Peter Mullan as Akela
- Eddie Marsan as Vihaan
- Jack Reynor as Brother Wolf
A number of writers, directors, and producers were connected with the film during its development. In April 2012, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that it was developing the film with Steve Kloves in talks to write, direct, and produce it. It was reported in December 2013 that Kloves would produce the film, and Alejandro González Iñárritu was in talks to direct, from a screenplay by Kloves' daughter Callie. However, in January 2014, Iñárritu left the project due to scheduling conflicts with Birdman and The Revenant. In February 2014, it was reported that Ron Howard was in talks to direct, and would produce the film with Brian Grazer through their Imagine Entertainment company. The next month it was announced that Andy Serkis would direct and produce the film with collaborator Jonathan Cavendish of The Imaginarium, and Serkis would also perform the role of Baloo. Production designer Gary Freeman, editor Mark Sanger, and costume designer Alexandra Byrne were hired.
In August 2014, Benedict Cumberbatch joined the film to voice the villain role of Shere Khan. Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Naomie Harris, Tom Hollander, Eddie Marsan, Peter Mullan, and Rohan Chand were announced the following day. Jack Reynor was added to the cast in March 2015 as Mowgli's Brother Wolf. It was announced in April 2015 that Matthew Rhys was in talks to play the human role of John Lockwood. In May 2015, it was reported that Freida Pinto would be playing an unspecified live-action role along with Rhys and Chand, later confirmed to be Mowgli's adoptive mother.
Principal photography began on March 9, 2015. It was filmed in South Africa and at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in England.
The film, originally titled Jungle Book: Origins, was initially set for an October 2016 release by Warner Bros. In December 2014, Warner Bros. shifted the date to October 2017, allowing more time for further work on the visual effects. In April 2016, just before the wide release of Disney's The Jungle Book, the film's release date was moved to October 19, 2018. In October 2017, Andy Serkis revealed the working title of the film to be Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book. In December, the official title was changed to Mowgli. Serkis stated that the film would be "darker" and more "serious" in tone than previous Jungle Book adaptations, thus closer to that of Kiping's original works. In March 2018, Serkis said first footage would be released "very soon". The first trailer and a behind-the-scenes featurette premiered on May 21, 2018.
In July 2018, it was announced that Netflix had purchased the worldwide distribution rights of the film from Warner Bros., and would set a 2019 release date, including a theatrical 3D release. At the time of the announcement, Deadline Hollywood described the film as "over-baked and over-budget" and said it allowed Warner Bros. to avoid "Pan-like box office bomb headlines" and saved them millions of dollars for not needing to promote the film. Speaking of the move, Serkis stated:
- “I'm really excited about Netflix for Mowgli. Now, we avoid comparisons to the other movie and it's a relief not to have the pressure. I've seen the 3D version, and it's exceptional, a different view from the 2D version, really lush and with great depth, and there will be some kind of theatrical component for that. What excites me most is the forward thinking at Netflix in how to present this, and the message of the movie. They understand this is a darker telling that doesn't fit it into a four quadrant slot. It's really not meant for young kids, though I think it's possible that 10 or above can watch it. It was always meant to be PG-13, and this allows us to go deeper, with darker themes, to be scary and frightening in moments. The violence between animals is not gratuitous, but it's definitely there. This way of going allows us to get the film out without compromise.”
- ―Andy Serkis
On November 7, 2018, Netflix released a new trailer for the film, announcing a new title change, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, as well as its limited theatrical release on November 29, 2018 and its subsequent streaming release on December 7, 2018. The film had its world premiere in Mumbai on November 25, 2018, the first time a Hollywood film premiered in India.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 57% based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critical consenses reads, "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle brings impressive special effects to bear on the darker side of its classic source material, but loses track of the story's heart along the way." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a "C+" and wrote: "Too dark for kids, too tame for adults. Stunning effects, occasionally wretched motion-capture. The technology may be there, but that doesn't mean it's been utilized to its full, feeling powers. It's a coming-of-age story unable to push forward in all the ways that really matter." Similarly, The Atlantic's reviewer David Sims claims the film suffers from weak visual effects and bland story; comparing it unfavorably to Jon Favreau's 2016 film The Jungle Book. By contrast, Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times praised Mowgli for incorporating the darker and more mature elements of Kiping's The Jungle Book. He also compared the film favorably to Disney's two family friendly Jungle Book iterations, describing Mowgli as "the movie equivalent of a whiskey chaser after a sugary shake."
Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com awarded Mowgli two stars, criticizing the film's motion capture effects and comparing the film unfavorably to Favreau's The Jungle Book. Olly Richards of Empire gave the film 2/5 stars, writing that "for all his ambition, Serkis can't find the right tone for Mowgli and it becomes a very confused beast, neither fun enough for all ages to enjoy nor complex enough to be the visceral, grown-up thriller he nudges at. The Observer's reviewer Wendy Ide awarded the film 3/5 stars, praising the film's visual and technical effects but opining that there was too much trauma and animal violence to attract family audiences.
David Fear of Rolling Stone gave the film 3/5 stars, describing Mowgli as "a harsher, darker, more CGI-heavy look at 'The Jungle Book'." While criticizing the film's CGI effects, Fear praised Christian Bale, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Cate Blanchett for their voicework as Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan, and Kaa. Michael Sullivan of The Washington Post awarded the film 4/5 stars, praising Andy Serkis for combining motion capture animation with live action footage while cautioning parents not to watch it with their kids due to its adult themes and violence.
Rohan Naahar of the Hindustan Times awarded Mowgli 4/5 stars, praising Serkis for delivering "a nuanced, visually dazzling update of the Jungle Book for Netflix." While praising the film for its technical effects and mature themes, Naahar expressed disappointment with the under-representation of Indians in the main cast apart from Freida Pinto. Collider's Matt Goldberg described the film as a "blood-soak version of the Jungle Book." Goldberg criticized the film's level of violence and unsatisfactory CGI effects, giving the film a D rating.
Differences between the book and the film