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Tom Shillue

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‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’ is beautiful but deeply disappointing

Two stars (out of four)

“Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” is not a Disney film, but it is a big, star-studded attraction with plenty of big names. Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice of Shere Khan the tiger, Oscar winner Christian Bale provides his voice Bagheera the panther, and then you have Andy Serkis — previously know as Golum — directing the film.

The whole thing is very ambitious, it’s great looking, and yet you scratch your head and ask, “Why?” I don’t know who this film is made for; that’s the amazing problem.

For people who don’t know the story, this has almost no connection to the cartoon Disney version. It’s a little similar to the live-action Disney version, which is much closer to the Rudyard Kipling original from 100 years ago.

But it’s very dark; it’s disturbing, actually. People have called it a blood-soaked re-imagining. The story is about a boy who is orphaned at the edges of the Indian jungle at about the turn of the century. The boy is rescued by a panther (voiced by Christian Bale), who brings the boy to a pack of wolves, and raise the boy as one of their own.

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The film I think is trying to be an adolescent coming of age movie, where he doesn’t really fit into the pack, he’s not a wolf, even though he tries to assert that he is. And yet he doesn’t fit in with human beings. He’s later taken to human captivity and actually kept in a cage. Basically, the plot of the movie is about how the evil tiger who killed the boy’s mother now wants to kill him, to taste his blood.

As a technical achievement, it’s impressive. There are beautiful shots, the camera work is great, and Andy Serkis gets pretty good performances from his people. The problem is that the boy playing Mowgli has a great screen presence, but the acting is way over the top, and there are some scenes that are just cringeworthy.

I’m sure he’ll go onto to better things as he grows up, but it’s hard for me to imagine someone going to this version of the “Jungle Book” — even if you haven’t seen the previous versions — and not feel deeply disappointed. It’s visually very striking, which is why it can be awarded two stars, but certainly no more than that.

It’s rated PG13. Let me just put it this way: One of the scenes involves one of his best friends in the animal world, who he later encounters stuffed, and it’s an extremely creepy scene. Unless you want to educate your young viewers about how nature is red in tooth and claw, it’s a tough movie.

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