Like Netflix’s Mowgli, 5 films that’ll make you rethink your childhood
Virtually every chance he gets, director Andy Serkis stresses that Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is darker than any previous adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. He insists that Mowgli is, in fact, a more honest representation of Kipling’s stories than the popular 1967 Disney animated classic or its 2016 live-action remake.
Mowgli, which was released on Netflix on December 7, is hardly the first film to receive such treatment. As the world becomes more difficult to comprehend - with economic, social and political upheaval influencing all our lives - films evolve to reflect these realities. In the ‘60s, films such as Night of the Living Dead commented on the civil rights movement in the United States. Its 1978 sequel, Dawn of the Dead, was a stinging critique of consumer culture.
In many ways, the blockbuster films of our times - a post 9/11 world filled with paranoia and fear - have spoken about the rapidly widening cracks in society, whether they are racial, ethnic, or based on ones sexuality. Thor: Ragnarok and Warcraft were about the refugee crisis, while the Jason Bourne and the James Bond movies have been directly influenced by our paranoid times.
Serkis in Mowgli comments on everything from the fear of ‘otherness’ to the damage that colonialism inflicted on certain countries, most notably India. To choose the Jungle Book as the vehicle for these ideas is exactly what you’d expect from a talented storyteller such as Serkis.
Here are five more examples of stories that are on paper aimed at children, but are hardly meant for them.
Where the Wild Things Are
Director Spike Jonze’s fantasy film tells a story about childhood, but is intended for adults. Made on a staggering $100 million budget (which it barely recouped) and injected with a melancholic tone that quickly erased any possibility of a child actually enjoying it, Where the Wild Things Are is one of the finest examples of bold, risky studio filmmaking. Even though rumours at the time suggested that neither Jonze nor Warner Bros was happy with the film.
Rare Exports is a dark Finnish horror fantasy about a group of explorers that discovers a twisted secret about Santa Claus. It’s a rather subversive take on a beloved childhood figure, whom the film depicts almost as a mountain troll.
With a lavish Netflix/BBC adaptation right around the corner, now’s a good time to revisit the 1978 British animated film, based on Richard Adams’ twisted, allegorical story about bunnies caught in a web of religious symbolism and violence. The new, four-part series, directed by Noam Murro, will feature the voices of James McAvoy, John Boyega and Ben Kingsley.
Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia, along with Pete’s Dragon, is one of the most underrated fantasy films of the last 10 years. Based on Katherine Paterson’s 1977 novel of the same name, the film is about deep, dark themes such as childhood trauma, coping mechanisms and death.
While each of the four feature films released by arthouse animation shingle, Laika Studios, deals with thorny themes, my personal favourite is the existential steampunk comedy, The Boxtrolls. Unlike Laika’s other films - Coraline and ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings - The Boxtrolls is a more universal film, less weird and therefore more likely to plunge through your vulnerabilities.