Jungle Versus Jungle…Book

Disney's latest version of The Jungle Book is the first of two retellings of the Rudyard Kipling classic coming to big screens in the next two years.
Disney’s latest version of The Jungle Book is the first of two retellings of the Rudyard Kipling classic coming to big screens in the next two years. Image: ©Walt Disney Studios, 2016.

Rudyard Kipling’s beloved short story collection, The Jungle Book, was written in the 1890s, but is still the inspiration for big screen interpretations today. Currently, there are two notable versions coming in the next two years, including the much-anticipated Disney production this spring.

The new Disney project is actually the second live action Jungle Book film Walt Disney Studios has done in recent years. Brandon Lee starred in the 1994 live action version, but the best known is still the original 1967 animated masterpiece. The 2003 animated sequel Jungle Book 2, was pretty forgettable.

This latest Disney version comes out April 15, keeping with their trend of large-scale live-action reimaginings and reboots of their own animated classics, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Following in October of 2017 is the Warner Bros. film Jungle Book: Origins, which also promises to be a larger-than-life effort, judging from the cast list.

As far as the story, which is really the important part when taking on the work of Kipling, the Disney version will remain true to its own earlier adaptation, based loosely on The Jungle Book chapter known as “Mowgli’s Brothers.” Although there has been no official announcement on the story’s plot, the Warner Bros. looks to follow a similar story.

Here are some interesting things that should make both of these version worth seeing on the big screen:

John Favreau, and Andy Serkis will direct the Disney and Warner Bros. Jungle Book adaptations respectively. Images: ©Disney (left), and Gage Skidmore.
John Favreau, left, and Andy Serkis will direct the Disney and Warner Bros. Jungle Book adaptations respectively. Images: ©Disney (left), and Gage Skidmore.

The Directors. This pair of directors is enough to make any movie fan want to see both of these versions. Actor and director Jon Favreau helms the latest Disney film, as well as serves as a producer. He already has some experience under his belt as not only the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, but for portraying Happy Hogan in all three Iron Man films.

Jungle Book: Origins serves as Serkis’s directorial debut, but he will also voice and perform as fan favorite bear Baloo, who will be portrayed in the Disney version by fan favorite actor Bill Murray.

Who has the edge: Favreau. Serkis has proven himself an incredible actor and comedian, and  was able to handle secondary directing duties in The Hobbit trilogy, but it’s his first time in the main director chair. Favreau has some great successes to draw from.

There is one element that Serkis has over Favreau. Not only is Serkis himself master of performance capture work, as demonstrated with his portrayals as Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Caesar (Planet of the Apes) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but The Imaginarium, Europe’s leading Performance Capture studio co-founded by Serkis, will partner with Warner Bros. on their film.

The Female Kaas. In the original Kipling book, Kaa is a male 100-year-old python, but even more interesting Kaa is one of Mowgli’s friends and mentors. In the original animated Disney film Kaa is a manipulative side-villain voiced by Disney regular Sterling Holloway (Winnie The Pooh, Cheshire Cat).

Both new Jungle Book projects will feature a female-voiced Kaa. Disney’s will be portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Warner Bros.’s will feature Cate Blanchett.

Based on Disney’s trailer and description of the new film, Kaa is “a python whose seductive voice and gazes hypnotizes the man-cub,” but is one of the creatures who don’t “have his best interests at heart.” It looks like Kaa will still be a bit of an antagonist in the new Disney version. No news on how Kaa will be portrayed in the 2017 story.

Who has the edge: Blanchett. As popular as Johansson is right now, and as sultry as her voice can be, Blanchett will add a touch of sophistication to this character that will go far beyond just a femme fatale.

A fantastically-cast Shere Khan. The story’s primary villain, the large, man-fearing tiger, Shere Khan, will be voiced by two of Great Britain’s most formidable voices: Idris Elba for Disney and Benedict Cumberbatch for Warner Bros. Elba and Cumberbatch are responsible for two of the BBC’s most popular detectives, Luther (Elba) and Sherlock (Cumberbatch).

In addition, both Elba and Cumberbatch share the honors of portraying major villains in the new Star Trek movie series, with Elba in the role of Krall in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and Cumberbatch as, well, Khan, in Star Trek: Into The Darkness.

Who has the edge: This one is a draw, as both these actors have incredible, deep and imposing tones perfect for the intimidating tiger villain. Please, oh, please don’t make us choose.

Mother Wolf will be voices by actresses Lupita Nyong'o for Disney and Naomi Harris for Warner Bros. Images:
Mother Wolf will be voiced by actresses Lupita Nyong’o for Disney and Naomi Harris for Warner Bros. Images: ©Disney (left), and ShareAlike.

An equally wonderfully cast for Mother Wolf. Mother Wolf has always been an important, yet underrated character in the Jungle Book movies, although she is the primary reason Mowgli survived past his infancy in the jungle. In the Disney version, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o will play the Mother Wolf, known as “Raksha.” This character in the Warner Bros. version will go by the name “Nisha,” with James Bond’s current Moneypenny, Naomi Harris, as her voice.

Who has the edge: Nyong’o. Naomi Harris a great actress, and is no stranger to Disney fans (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean series), but if Nyong’o’s voice work in The Force Awakens is any indication, her Mother Wolf will be simply outstanding.

Other voice notables will be Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in the Disney version, and Christian Bale in the Warner Bros. version, and Christopher Walken should be a hilarious King Louie. King Louie is a Disney creation, which was not part of Kipling’s original tale, so there will be no King Louie in the Warner Bros. version.

Young actors Neel Sethi and Rohan Chand, both natives of a different “jungle,” New York City, will portray Mowgli in the Disney and Warner Bros. films respectively.

The big question is, which version will do better with fans and in the box office? Disney is certainly on a roll with their new live action storybook tales, but the Serkis production stands to properly capture the sensibilities of fans of the India-born British favorite Kipling.

No matter what the box office ultimately decides, as long as they both stay true to the exotic lure of adventure Kipling always envisioned, there should easily be reason to return to the jungle more than once in the near future.

 

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.