Given just how much of a cultural juggernaut Disney has become, it can be easy to forget that chunks of their most famous animations are based on source material that, in some cases, is far removed from the wholesome and thoroughly sanitised versions the House of Mouse wants us to see.
Case in point, when you think of The Jungle Book, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Phil Harris’s loveable goofball Baloo singing about taking it easy while Louis Prima delivers a memorable jazz number as King Louie.
What you probably won’t think of is how Rudyard Kipling’s original story, on which the movie was based, is way more violent and includes scenes such as Mowgli – the man-cub and main focus of the story – leading a herd of elephants to completely destroy a human village in revenge for its inhabitants harbouring an ivory poacher.
While you won’t find any of this in the Disney versions, the live-action Netflix adaptation has opted to stick closer to the source material to deliver a darker, gritter take on Kipling’s work.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is directed by Andy Serkis (who also plays Baloo) and on the surface, the story follows the same basic beats as its Disney counterpart.
We follow the young human Mowgli (Rohan Chand) who is abandoned in the jungle and raised by a pack of wolves, along with the wise jaguar Bagheera (Christian Bale).
Eventually he’s forced to defend himself and his family from the evil tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as a ruthless hunter named Lockwood (Matthew Rhys).
This version borrows a lot more elements from the original book but funnily enough, that actually hurts the film overall.
In addition to the “uncanny valley” nature of the CGI, the film also cannot seem to decide who its target audience is meant to be.
On the one hand, the unrelenting brutality of the story along with all the uncensored violence suggests that this was meant to be some sort of dark deconstruction aimed at adults.
On the other hand, there are weird moments of cartoonish slapstick and comedy clearly aimed at a younger audience.
It leaves the impression that there were two versions of this film and rather than choosing one or the other, they just slapped both together and hoped for the best.
In the end, comparisons between Mowgli and Disney’s Jungle Book (both the original and the live-action remake) are inevitable and while Mowgli may be closer to the original source material, the Disney versions know exactly what they want to be and are stronger as a result.
Give it a look if you are curious, but if you really want a more accurate version of Kipling’s work just read the books.