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Mowgli (3D in some cinemas)


Stars: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Peter Mullan, Tom Hollander, Freida Pinto, Naomie Harris, Eddie Marsan, Matthew Rhys, Jack Reynor, Louis Ashbourne Serkis

Director: Andy Serkis

A darker rendition of The Jungle Book, literally red in tooth and claw and made in performance capture - actors converted into animals by CGI magic - by the king of the genre Serkis, who also plays Baloo the bear.

The sense of constant danger is heightened here, compared to even the most recent version, with Shere Khan the tiger (Cumberbatch) menacingly on the prowl and even trusty Bagheera the panther (Bale) scarcely able to control his natural instincts when it comes to the prospect of a tasty man-cub.

The film is imposingly shot by Michael Seresin (in South Africa, not India), as we watch the orphan Mowgli (Chand) grow up with the wolf-pack of which he becomes a part, although Bagheera is determined that he'll be caught in the Chase that qualifies the younger wolves to go hunting with the pack: the panther thinks the adoptee would be better off in the man-village below.

Watching over it all is Kaa the snake (Blanchett), who has her own agenda.

Nobly though he tries, young Chand is really too pretty to play Mowgli, especially with gleaming white teeth and surely the longest eyelashes in the business. But Cumberbatch rumbles malevolently as the tiger, Blanchett hisses frighteningly as the snake, and Mullan elicits sympathy for Akela, the ageing wolf-chief, who must bloodily fight half the pack when his leadership is challenged.

The broadly cockney accents of some of the animals take a bit of getting used to, but they do make an amusing character of Shere Khan's pusillanimous sycophant, a hyena (Hollander), who bewails that 'sometimes I dream I'm a tiger - but I always wake up a hyena.'

Scenes in the man-camp - where kindly white hunter Lockwood (Rhys) bewilderingly turns overnight into a drunken bully - are less interesting and just slow the pace of the film, which is otherwise visceral, violent but sometimes quite beautiful.

The film is being marketed as Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle - but it's just Mowgli that appears on screen.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/South Africa 2018. UK Distributor: Netflix (Warner Brothers). Colour (unspecified).
105 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Dec 2018