The tale of Andy Serkis’ long-delayed Jungle Book movie just got weirder. The project first originated back in 2013 with Callie Kloves penning a screenplay that garnered interest from Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Ron Howard, until Serkis signed on to make his feature directorial debut in 2014. Filming began on the ambitious project—titled Mowgli—in 2015, with Serkis making extensive use of performance capture technology to bring his tale to life. And while the film was finally set for release later this year, not only is that not happening, the film is switching studios entirely.
Per Deadline, Netflix has acquired the worldwide rights to Mowgli from Warner Bros., which had initially slated an October 19th theatrical release for the gritty take on the classic tale. The streaming service is now planning a 2019 release for the film, which alongside Bright and Michael Bay’s upcoming Six Underground will mark one of Netflix’s first “blockbusters.”
Serkis assembled an all-star cast for the performance capture portion of Mowgli, including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch, but the project was always running neck-and-neck with Disney’s Jon Favreau-directed The Jungle Book. When it was clear Disney was going to beat Warner Bros. to the punch—and that Disney’s version was far darker and grittier than expected—WB and Serkis decided to slow down and take their time. A series of additional photography spells occurred over the past couple years as Serkis sought input from filmmakers like Alfonso Cuaron during post-production on Mowgli, so he continued to fine-tune the film.
And even with the all-star cast and Serkis at the helm, WB still faced a question of whether audiences would head to the theater for yet another gritty Jungle Book movie. Now the studio’s off the hook, and speaking with Deadline, Serkis says the move to Netflix is a relief:
“I’m really excited about Netflix for Mowgli. Now, we avoid comparisons to the other movie and it’s a relief not to have the pressure. I’ve seen the 3D version, and it’s exceptional, a different view from the 2D version, really lush and with great depth, and there will be some kind of theatrical component for that. What excites me most is the forward thinking at Netflix in how to present this, and the message of the movie. They understand this is a darker telling that doesn’t fit it into a four quadrant slot. It’s really not meant for young kids, though I think it’s possible that 10 or above can watch it. It was always meant to be PG-13, and this allows us to go deeper, with darker themes, to be scary and frightening in moments. The violence between animals is not gratuitous, but it’s definitely there. This way of going allows us to get the film out without compromise.”
While Netflix continues to funnel money into more high-profile original productions, they’re also making a habit of picking up already-made major films from other studios like The Cloverfield Particle and Annihilation, the latter of which Netflix released internationally. Mowgli is the latest to occur, and a sign that Netflix is still game to acquire films that the other traditional studios may not want to release anymore.
As for Serkis, since Mowgli was so delayed he actually released his second directorial project—the true-story drama Breathe—before Mowgli, so he’s no doubt happy to see his Jungle Book adaptation finally taking shape. Even if it means yet another delay.