WHERE do you go with a new “live-action” version of The Jungle Book after Disney’s 2016 box-office busting incarnation? The answer actor-turned-director Andy Serkis gives is to go dark. Really dark. So much so that it barely feels connected to what the house of mouse ever did with the story and results in an unbalanced but striking take on it.

Serkis’s version very much takes things back to Rudyard Kipling’s seminal source material about an Indian boy eventually named Mowgli (Rohan Chand), found by the panther Bagheera (voiced by Christian Bale) and taken to the depths of the jungle where he’s raised among a pack of wolves, led by Akela (Peter Mullan) and Nisha (Naomie Harris), and trained by the ruthless Baloo (Serkis himself).

As the dreaded and formidable tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes an appearance to exert his power and seek control over their lush habitat, Mowgli also must confront his own origins – namely the fact that he’s not actually a wolf and really belongs with his own human kind.

The decision to take things down the darker path less travelled is an interesting though not altogether successful one. It’s rougher around the edges, with clawed scratches of a less sharply defined narrative that sometimes lags in pace. And for the first half at least the uncanny valley effect of the CGI (in addition to voicing the characters, the actors are motion-captured to blend with what the real animals would look like) tends to distract more than immerse you in the world.

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Nevertheless there’s a sincerity to Serkis’s interpretation of the legendary story, as well as a boldness in how it flies in the face of what we think we know about it. The cutesiness of Disney (both the 1967 animation and the 2016 CGI-live-action hybrid) feels violently pushed aside by design – there’s no catchy musical numbers, for example, as Serkis ups the danger and tension, mounting genuinely impressive and thrilling horrors of nature sequences, that if it weren’t for the CGI could be from a David Attenborough documentary.

It’s straight-up frightening at times, not least in how it utilizes the giant snake Kaa (Cate Blanchett), whose coiling, poisonous menace looms large as just one of the threats the jungle poses – that may overwhelm the heart of the story at times, but it’s commendable how much Serkis makes the jungle feel like a living, breathing and perilous place as much as it is the home of these creatures.

It takes a tougher stance on just about everything, from the dangers Mowgli faces to its treatment of the usually loveable big bear Baloo as a kind of world-weary, no-nonsense drill-sergeant, and in how it examines Mowgli’s human origins.

It’s a game of two halves, taking a while to settle into its particular interpretation of the world before becoming much more compelling in the second half as it explores where the beloved “man cub” came from, both physically and metaphorically.

Does his human nature define him or is his unorthodox upbringing the key to who he really is? However uneven the overall result may be, Serkis wrestles with that idea with gusto, a rewarding feeling of genuine reverence for the source material and a commitment to going for it, tooth and claws ferociously out.

The simple bare necessities here are to have bite and grit to spare, sometimes at the expense of making it all hang together, but it’s refreshing to see a version of the story stare meaningfully into the void.

You can watch Mowgli on Netflix from Thursday