If it wasn’t already apparent that Warner Bros. is feeling the heat from the smashing success of Disney’s The Jungle Book, the studio has now tapped an Oscar-winning filmmaker to pitch in on its own adaptation of the classic Rudyard Kipling story. In April 2012, Warner Bros. announced that it was developing a new take on the Kipling story, but the project’s development over the next few months was more nebulous. Alejandro G. Ińarritu entered talks to direct, then dropped out, then Ron Howard was eyed to take on the director’s chair, then he fell out. Finally, in February 2014, Warner Bros. tapped Andy Serkis to make his directorial debut on the project and things finally seemed to be coalescing, that is until Disney announced its own new live-action adaptation that summer.
As you well know, even though WB’s project was announced first, Disney’s adaptation won the race to the big screen, and now Warner Bros. seems to be rethinking how to approach Serkis’ film. Enter Alfonso Cuaron, who won an Oscar for helming Warner Bros.’ Gravity, and who THR says has now joined The Jungle Book as a “consultant.” What does that mean, exactly? THR puts it most succinctly, explaining that it’s “a Hollywood term that encompasses a lot of vague tasks from assisting in directing to even post-production work.”
Serkis actually already completed principal photography on the motion-capture film last year, with Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Matthew Rhys all filming roles while Serkis himself played Baloo. But as it became clear that director Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book for Disney was not a colorful, song-filled, “Disney-fied” adaptation but instead a photoreal and somewhat dark take on Kipling’s story, Warner Bros. no doubt began to fear that their own project—previously titled Jungle Book: Origins—might be too similar.
It was always Serkis’ intention to tell a more grounded version of Kipling’s story, but one imagines WB was surprised to see that Disney took the same route with their film. The studio recently pushed Serkis’ film back from October 2017 to October 2018, and with Cuaron now joining the project it’ll be interesting what can/will be done to further hone Serkis’ vision. He’s working from a screenplay by Callie Kloves, daughter of Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves, and the pedigree of his ensemble is undeniably impressive. The issue facing the film now, one assumes, is how to make it distinctive from Favreau’s take.
But they better get crackin’. Disney is already in early talks with Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks to return for The Jungle Book 2, so now Serkis’ film runs the risk of retelling a familiar origin story when audiences are already primed and ready for the sequel. Who knew The Jungle Book would be such a hot property in the year 2016?