Disney’s live action, CGI-enhanced version of The Jungle Book — from Iron Man director Jon Favreau — continues a recent trend of the studio re-imagining some of their beloved classics, following the success of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and this year’s Cinderella. Fresh takes on Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Dumbo, Tinker Bell, Fantasia and even Winnie the Pooh are also currently in development.
The Jungle Book features the voices of an impressive group of actors — including Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, and Ben Kingsley — but only one actor’s face will be seen on screen: newcomer Neel Sethi, who reportedly beat out 2,000 other actors for the lead role of Mowgli.
With Sethi being the focus of the story — and the only non-CGI actor in the film — there was a certain amount of pressure in making sure the casting process found the right performer. Favreau explained what he sought when he began the search for Mowgli:
“There was a certain quality we wanted, and we knew he was going to have to carry the film. So it was going to have to be somebody that had a certain charisma, a certain charm and certain qualities that I remember from the cartoon.”
The Jungle Book is Sethi’s first feature film — his only other credit (according to IMDB) is the short film Diwali. This seems like a daunting task, not only because the actor is so young and inexperienced, but also because he is being asked to act against characters and environments that have to be created in post production. At any rate, whatever the young actor lacks in experience, he clearly made up for it in his auditions. It will be interesting to see if what Favreau saw in his Mowgli comes across onscreen when the film finally makes its way to theaters.
With the film’s release now less than four months away (after being postponed from October 2015), Disney is looking to begin the marketing push for the film, releasing an emotional new still (via Empire) from the highly anticipated movie. The image in question shows a drenched Mowgli embracing his wolf-mother, Raksha — voiced by Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lupita Nyong’o. The other half of his adoptive parents — his father Akela — is played by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito.
The new image provides our second glimpse of Raksha following the release of the movie’s visually striking poster, and two trailers — including an international version, which gave viewers their first look at the wolf-mom — that demonstrated the family-friendly film will be action driven, highlighting Shere Khan’s desperate pursuit of Mowgli.
It is anyone’s guess how audiences are going to react to this newest version of The Jungle Book, but Disney has had a good run of re-imagining its animated classics as of late. Creatively, Cinderella had a better critical reception than Maleficent, though the latter had higher box-office returns than the former, grossing $758.5 million worldwide to Cinderella’s $542.7 million. Meanwhile, the critically-panned Alice in Wonderland became Tim Burton’s most successful film to date, generating over $1 billion in ticket sales, and earning a spot as the ninth-highest grossing film of all time. Its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, will be released on May 27th, 2016.
Given those recent successes, there’s no doubt there will be high hopes for The Jungle Book, whose rich source material, stellar cast, and well-known director may prove to be a winning combination. It will also get a jump on Warner Bros. and Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book: Origins coming in 2017.
The Jungle Book opens in theaters on April 15th, 2016.