There are two live-action movie adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic India jungle adventure novel The Jungle Book currently in development. Warner Bros. is moving forward with a version that has Andy Serkis directing, while the other is from Walt Disney Pictures and has already been scheduled to debut in theaters in Fall 2015.
Serkis calls his Kipling adaptation “quite a dark take” on the story of Mowgli the Man-Cub, but Jon Favreau – who is calling the shots on Disney’s new Jungle Book movie – says his project will be the first “real family film” that he’s made in a while.
Favreau got his start as a writer/director with adult-oriented fare such as Made, before he tried his hand at quirky kid-friendly material like Elf and Zathura: A Space Adventure; over the decade (or so) since then, Favreau has churned out Iron Man movies, the genre-blending Cowboys & Aliens comic book adaptation, and this May’s R-Rated indie comedy Chef. That’s to say, a gee-whiz family adventure could be a good next move for Favreau, now that he’s cleansed his palate a bit with his most recent film.
The cast of Favreau’s Jungle Book already includes Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), who is voicing the iconic tiger villain Shere Khan – a digitally-rended character in this CGI/live-action project. THR is reporting that Scarlett Johansson – who worked with Favreau on Iron Man 2 and Chef – is current in talks to join Elba as a cast member, along with the newly-minted Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Nyong’o, should she sign on, will provide the voice for the CGI Raksha, the mother wolf who finds the infant Mowgli in the jungle and decides to adopt him as her own child. Meanwhile, Johansson is reportedly up to provide the vocals for the digitally-animated python Kaa, who most people know as a villainous-type from Disney’s famous 1967 animated film adaptation of the Jungle Book source material.
Johansson as Kaa is a bit outside the box, as far as casting choices that immediately spring to mind are concerned, but she certainly has the nuanced vocal mannerisms to play the role well (see: her voice performance in Her). Besides, as Jungle Book is a story that has been told and re-told so many times, Favreau’s movie has a better chance of feeling fresh if it bucks tradition here and there.
As for Nyong’o, she’s recently been considered to join upcoming tentpoles like Joe Wright’s Pan – an origin movie for Peter Pan – and J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII, so it’s nice to see the breakout performer finally land a role in one of these block-busting features. It remains to be seen how substantial her role in Jungle Book is, but like Elba and Johansson, she possesses an expressive voice that lends itself naturally to the field of voice-acting.
Screenwriter Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) is the biggest wild card in Disney’s hand here. He penned an early script draft for David Fincher’s canceled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which Disney passed over largely due to budget concerns; apparently, his work there was good enough for him to earn the company’s trust with its third take on Kipling’s Jungle Book (after the 1960s cartoon feature and the 1994 live-action film adaptation released by the Mouse House).
The Jungle Book opens in 2D and 3D theaters in the U.S. on October 9th, 2015.