Andy Serkis' Jungle Book adaptation is undergoing a bit of an overhaul, being renamed Mowgli and getting a new synopsis. The project was once called Jungle Book: Origins, in an effort to differentiate from the 2016 The Jungle Book, and will now go under the new title. Accompanying the name change, is a promise that the live-action adaptation will bring something to new to the classic story.
News of Serkis' Jungle Book movie broke roughly around the time that Disney remade their animated movie into a live-action one. Jon Favreau's remake was incredibly well-received, critically and commercially. Disney's The Jungle Book became one of the most lucrative movies of 2016. The success of Disney's version left Serkis' Jungle Book movie, which will be the actor's first major motion picture as a director, in doubt. Yet studio Warner Bros. is moving forward with Serkis' adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story. Trying, at least with the name, to move away from the obvious associations. However, the plot synopsis does sound very familiar.
Released as a part of a preview for Warner Bros. 2018 slate, the synopsis of Mowgli reads:
Blending live action and performance capture, the story follows the upbringing of the human child Mowgli (Rohan Chand) raised by a wolf pack in the jungles of India. As he learns the often-harsh rules of the jungle, under the tutelage of a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis) and a panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), Mowgli becomes accepted by the animals of the jungle as one of their own. All but one: the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). But there may be greater dangers lurking in the jungle, as Mowgli comes face to face with his human origins. The other story’s central animal characters are: Kaa, the snake (Cate Blanchett); the leader of the wolf pack, Akela (Peter Mullan); the scavenging hyena, Tabaqui (Tom Hollander); Nisha, the female wolf (Naomie Harris), who adopts the baby Mowgli as one of her cubs; Nisha’s mate, Vihaan (Eddie Marsan); and Mowgli’s Brother Wolf (Jack Reynor).
While that plot synopsis does sound very similar to both Disney movies, there is some interesting material to be gleaned that points out some differences. Earlier interviews stressed that this Jungle Book would be a more faithful adaptation of the story that Disney's version. Yet in Kipling's original tale Tabaqui, Tom Hollander's character, is a jackal. It's only until the animated Disney movie that he was turned into a hyena. It's a change that Mowgli is evidently keeping. However the even more interesting tidbit (and divergence) is that there are no characters called Nisha and Vihaan in Kipling's Jungle Book. Just like the Disney movie, Mowgli is raised by two wolves called Raksha and Akela.
Name changes and a switch of animal breed are, admittedly, rather superficial alterations. Just because the Disney characters are named the same as those in the Kipling book doesn't mean they act the same. Disney, reasonably, has a reputation for sanitizing stories, making them more family-friendly. Kipling's original text is much darker. It's likely this tone that Mowgli will be aiming for when it finally releases.
This darker tone would track with one of the promises from the synopsis. Mowgli, as the name suggests, will focus much more on the young child and his connection to humanity. Disney's movies explored this aspect but skirted over the more violent parts. If Serkis' Mowgli truly commits that would be the biggest departure from the Disney versions. The main attraction of those movies have always been the animals.
So it'll be interesting if audiences respond to a darker, more human version of the tale that Mowgli hopes to provide.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures
- Mowgli (2019) release date: Oct 19, 2018