When the live action Jungle Book remake was announced, many people greeted the news with a mixture of skepticism and groans. It felt unnecessary and definitely like Disney were tampering with a sacred classic. The movie’s release has come and gone and most have been pleasantly surprised, with the live-action approach adding a new-lease of life to the movie and demonstrating that Disney have something special with their new “remake” schedule.
It also meant that most people had forgotten about the other Jungle Book remake. Originally called Jungle Book: Origins, a second movie directed and starring Andy Serkis, was announced around the same time as Disney’s planned remake. This wouldn’t use the photo-real effects that Jon Favreau’s utilised but instead opting for the motion-capture performances that Serkis has made an impressive career from.
With Disney’s Jungle Book now a success, and even having it’s own sequel announced this week, it isn’t difficult to see the pressure mounting on Serkis’ version. Just before Disney’s version hit cinemas, Warner Bros moved their version to late 2018 from it’s original 2017 date, maybe creating enough distance that the Disney version will be a distant memory.
It seems that even before Disney’s version became the success it is, Warner Bros and Serkis would always struggle. For starters, they were handling a property which was already beloved by many. For Disney to mess up their own heritage is one thing but for someone else to think the can deliver The Jungle Book is another. Especially when there are key ingredients to the story which Warner Bros can not include.
The music is the first thing. Even Favreau, when he was creating a realistic version of the tale, knew he had to include at least the two biggest musical numbers. Any Jungle Book movie is going to miss the “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You” but Serkis can not use them. Whats more, if he is going for a more faithful adaptation, based on Rudyard Kipling’s original stories, he can’t use King Louie either.
King Louie is a Disney invention. There aren’t even any Orangutans in the Jungles of India. So no musical number and no monkeys. What Serkis does have going for him is a great mix of voice talent. His version of The Jungle Book already boasts Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, Christian Bale as Bagheera and Cate Blanchett as Kaa. These are great additions to the film and some of them lend real heavyweight to the characters. Cumberbatch as Khan should definitely offer something different to the dulcet tones of Idris Elba.
The strangest choice is Serkis as Baloo. That character is the one you can’t get wrong as it is most people’s favourite. He doesn’t quite seem to have the comical voice or skill that the original animated version had, and almost definitely nothing close to what Bill Murray bought to the recent version.
The biggest obstacle the film will face is familiarity. Serkis’ Jungle Book has to be something different. It can’t be a serious adaptation of the already well-known story because we have that now, it has been done and it has been done very well. There are other Kipling stories that Serkis could adapt and the fact it was originally called Origins maybe holds a clue, but something fresh and original has to be the way forward otherwise people will be asking, “what’s the point?”
Overall, Serkis has an almost insurmountable task on his hands. He will have to bring something fresh, original and different to his version of a movie which has already been remade successfully. The fact he can’t use the original songs or some of the key characters already puts him at a disadvantage, not to mention that nobody wanted the original remake, so will they really want another?