Disney's second live-action adaptation of the classic Rudyard Kipling novel The Jungle Book has just added another formidable name to its already impressive cast. Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3) has signed on to voice the pivotal role of Bagheera, surrogate father figure, protector, and confidant to young orphan boy Mowgli. The consummate character actor joins big names like Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers), and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave).
As mentioned previously, this Jon Favreau directed effort will be Disney's second attempt at bringing The Jungle Book to the live-action world, following the 1994 film Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. That adaptation was an early effort from Mummy director Stephen Sommers, and it starred Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. Unlike Favreau's adaptation, Sommers' version went in the more realistic direction of not having the animals speak. The film was received well by both critics and audiences at the time, but has mostly faded into obscurity in the decades since.
With Kingsley now in place as Bagheera, Elba set to voice villainous tiger Shere Khan, Johansson voicing sinister snake Kaa, and Nyong'o on-board as Mowgli's adoptive mother wolf Raksha, only a few more major roles still remain to be cast. While characters like Baloo and King Louie will certainly play important parts in the story, the biggest opening still needing to be filled is obviously Mowgli.
It is not yet known whether Favreau will stick closer to the animated Jungle Book and focus on Mowgli as a child, or take the Sommers route and age up Mowgli to adulthood. Either scenario will present various challenges when it comes to casting, although it wouldn't be too surprising to see a relative unknown land the role. Between Elba, Kinglsey, and Johansson, the cast is already overflowing with star power, leaving an opening for a young actor to assume the spotlight.
Disney's Jungle Book won't be the only adaptation of Kipling's tale hitting theaters in the next few years, as Warner Bros. has hired prolific motion capture actor Andy Serkis to direct a competing live-action Jungle Book - one said to be darker and less family-friendly than the Disney version. While Disney will clearly have the advantage in marketability and name value, that's no guarantee that it'll make the better film. In fact, fans of the book may end up preferring Serkis' version, as Disney's takes have always tended to make the story much more cheerful and less harrowing than the source material.
The Jungle Book is only one of several upcoming live-action remakes of classic Disney animated properties. Will this trend be a positive one? Or will Jon Favreau's film not have the "bare necessities" needed to please the masses?
The Jungle Book hits theaters in both 2D and 3D on October 9th, 2015.
Source: Walt Disney Pictures
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