This isn’t your children’s Jungle Book.
This morning, Warner Bros. unveiled the hotly anticipated first trailer for Mowgli, its long-in-the-works take on the Rudyard Kipling classic.
As promised by director Andy Serkis, this trailer teases a much darker, scarier take on the story, soaking its setting in deep shadow and leaning into the grim realities of living in a jungle. In other words, expect fewer “Bare Necessities.”
Andy Serkis, best known for his pioneering performance-capture work in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes franchises, sat behind the camera on the planned blockbuster, which he tells EW will “buck expectations” with its serious, grounded take on the eponymous wild child.
“It feels like Dickens in the jungle,” Serkis tells EW, describing the setting of his Mowgli as “a savage place, as well as an idyllic place” that harbors more danger and darkness than past versions of the story — including Jon Favreau’s well-received 2016 take for Disney — have explored.
“There’s no nodding to the audience that everything’s going to be fine,” he says. “The jeopardy is real jeopardy.”
At one point, Warner Bros. was racing to get its Jungle Book adaptation into theaters before Disney’s, aware that audiences might balk at two separate adaptations hitting screens in close succession. When it became clear that Favreau’s version was moving ahead much more quickly, the studio and Serkis instead chose to take more time with Mowgli, a decision he says allowed them to more completely develop it as “a fully felt, visceral experience.”
In Serkis’ take on the story, human boy Mowgli (Rohan Chand) grows up believing himself to be a wolf, only to have that perception shattered when Bagheera the panther (Christian Bale) informs him of his true roots in the nearby human village. Hunted by fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) — “an agent of chaos,” according to Serkis — Mowgli is forced to return to the land of man. It’s far from an easy transition.
“This film is entirely about being Other,” says Serkis. “Mowgli is almost like a refugee when he goes from living with animals to the world of man. He’s not fully accepted at first, he’s an outsider, and he’s potentially this pariah character.”
“He almost assimilates himself into this new culture,” explains Serkis, until the arrival of “a moment that catalyzes his return to the jungle.”
Serkis took advantage of advancements in motion-capture technology to augment the performances of the actors playing animals, including Cate Blanchett as the snake Kaa, Tom Hollander as nefarious hyena Tabaqui, Peter Mullan as alpha wolf Akela, Naomie Harris as wolf mother Raksha, and Serkis himself as Baloo the bear.
The human cast, in addition to Chand, includes Matthew Rhys as hunter John Lockwood and Freida Pinto as village woman Messua, who becomes a maternal figure for Mowgli upon his return to the land of man.
Mowgli opens Oct. 19. Watch the full trailer above.
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy