There are many interpretations of Rudyard Kipling’s novel The Jungle Book on film, the most famous being the 1967 Disney animation feature.
The latest version comes from director Andy Serkis who says his film – titled Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle – follows more closely to the anthology it is based on.
“If you look at the book, it’s much darker than most people’s perception of it,” explained Serkis at Netflix’s two-day content showcase event in Singapore last month.
“(Mowgli) is really about understanding the emotion of being an outsider. Rudyard Kipling himself – who was born in India and lived there till he was five, then sent to England almost against his will – understood from a personal experience what it’s like to be dislodged. So, this is really the core of what the story is about,” he added.
Mowgli is a journey of an orphaned boy, raised by wolves in a jungle in India with a little help from a panther and a bear.
Although the boy struggles with his identity, he just wants to be accepted as part of the wolf pack.
However, not all animals are in favour of a human living among them – one vicious tiger is especially against it.
Fearing for his safety, Mowgli goes to a village and learns to assimilate himself in the world of man. Nonetheless, trouble soon follows him. Will Mowgli discover who he really is?
Serkis’s film is filled with A-list actors who play the animals that exist around Mowgli. Christian Bale is panther Bagheera, Serkis is the bear Baloo, Cate Blanchett inhabits an ancient python known as Kaa, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the tiger, Shere Khan.
According to Serkis, these stars came on board because they were interested in “doing something new and out of their comfort zone”.
That something different for these actors is a chance to act using performance capture technology.
Serkis who brought Caesar to life in the Planet Of The Apes movies, and played Gollum in Lord Of The Rings films, said that there is no mystery to performance capture technology.
“It’s just inhabiting a character and just believing yourself into that being, which is what actors do – you use your imagination.”
However, he acknowledges one huge advantage. “With this technology, you are not limited by the colour of your skin, your height, your shape, your sex.
“It is literally a tool that allows an actor to become anything. And that is why I am passionate about this performance tool of the 21st century,” the 54-year-old said.
The film was shot in a studio in Britain, as well as on location in South Africa, where physical sets of a jungle and the village were built.
It then went through two years of post–production to “morph” an actor into an animal. The result is a creature that looks both like an animal and the actor voicing it.
Serkis described Mowgli as his personal passion project and he’s glad it landed on Netflix.
“I always thought Mowgli as an international film, and that it didn’t have to be just a success at the US box-office. It’s much, much, more about connecting thematically to a global audience.”
Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle is now available on Netflix.