When both Jon Favreau and Andy Serkis’s Jungle Book films were announced, it looked like a real Dante’s Peak/Volcano situation. However, Serkis’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle sat on the shelf for two years and then got sold to Netflix. So we didn’t end up with two Jungle Books in the same year or even one year apart. Still close enough and interesting to see two unique takes on the same material, neither being the first adaptation at that.
Legend of the Jungle has some different takes on the Jungle Book animal characters. Baloo (Andy Serkis) here is a gruff, grizzled elder, not a playful slacker. Each animal has a distinct personality, down to the cynical hyena. Like the Disney version, Mowgli just trusts the animals as characters and it’s up to the filmmakers to realize them like they would any human being.
Mowgli plays up Mowgli (Rohan Chand)’s identity crisis a bit more. Bagheera (Christian Bale) thinks it’s too dangerous to allow a man into the pack. Baloo believes in him and Mowgli just wants to be a wolf. He really can’t deny he’s a man though. This Mowgli spends more time in the human camp and the film explores that adjustment, developing his man side more. Therefore you get more conflict between Mowgli’s man and animal side too.
Ultimately, a hardcore tragic discovery with the humans shows Mowgli that he really can’t compartmentalize. These are not two separate worlds. Man attacks the jungle animals so Mowgli has to take sides.
There’s also a message that “others can mistake individuality for weakness.” That’s interesting. Since when is conforming seen as strength? I don’t think the film explored that as much as Mowgli’s role between two worlds.
I think Favreau ended up making the kick ass Volcano of Jungle Book movies, though his made more at the box office than both volcano films combined. Serkis did indeed achieve his vision of a darker, more mature Jungle Book. There is blood and a lot more takes place at night. Mowgli bears the stamp of Serkis’s performance capture technique more than the fully animated creatures of Favreau’s. It’s worth having both.