All hail Disney, the king of the jungle, which beat even the loftiest of expectations for Jon Favreau’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story The Jungle Book. The film, starring the voice talents of Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, and Idris Elba, earned more than $100 million its opening frame, and critics loved it too: the PG-rated, CG-generated action-adventure scored a 94 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Who knew audiences would love talking jungle animals so much?
Warner Bros., for one. Because despite Favreau reaching the finish line first, Disney’s rival studio is also readying its own version of The Jungle Book, from performance-capture maestro Andy Serkis. With an equally pedigreed cast featuring Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch, Warner Bros. will release its version of The Jungle Book in 2018, having recently postponed the film’s release by one year. But the question being asked right now: Can the jungle handle two kings?
Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book featured everything the director loved about Disney’s 1967 animated film, from the joyous “The Bare Necessities” to Mowgli’s adventuresome spirit. But the director, and screenwriter Justin Marks, also sprinkled in the tension and danger from Kipling’s set of short stories, even featuring the author’s lyrical language and incorporating Raksha, the female wolf (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o). The result was a quality all-audience charmer that lured in a diverse demographic.
Where does that leave Warner Bros. and its Jungle Book? Serkis told EW back in 2014 that his version “is very much a return to the original subject matter” and “a lot darker” than the Disney version currently earning millions in theaters. But most audiences connect The Jungle Book with the original Disney movie rather than the actual Kipling texts, which are more sinister but also feature dated colonial themes and the idea of conquering nature rather than preserving its beauty. (Of note: Kipling’s tales are part of the public domain and therefore available for anyone to adapt.)
But Warner Bros. is standing by its man. One insider says the filmmaker-friendly studio believes completely in Serkis’ vision — even though he’s never directed a film before. Details are still few, but we know Serkis will feature the latest in performance-capture technology, following his memorable digital turns as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel, and Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Callie Kloves, a young screenwriter and the daughter of producer and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, wrote the script. (Steve Kloves is producing Serkis’ film.)
Serkis, meanwhile, is still very excited about The Jungle Book. The actor declined to comment for this story, but posted a message on Facebook earlier this month after Warner Bros. announced it was pushing his film date by an entire year, calling his film “the real deal.”
“What we are attempting is an unprecedented level of psychological and emotional nuance in morphing the phenomenal performances of our cast into the facial expressions of our animals. We are breaking new ground with realistic non-humanoid animal faces, such as a panther or wolf, ensuring that they convincingly communicate with human language and emotion via performance capture, and are able to stand up to real scrutiny in richly complex dramatic scenes,” he wrote. “So, every minute more that we have to evolve the technological pipeline will make all the difference…the evidence is there already and it’s off the chain exciting, so hang on in there… This is truly next generation storytelling, and it will be the real deal!”
By 2018, there’s bound to still be a lot of enthusiasm for more Jungle Book. But for the sake of Warner Bros. and Serkis, let’s hope it’s not just for Disney’s sequel.