Andy Serkis on why there was room for two Jungle Books

Still from MowgliImage copyright

Andy Serkis hopes his retelling of The Jungle Book will still find an audience – despite Disney’s 2016 adaptation effectively driving it on to the small screen.

It could have been a very different rumble in the jungle.

Until a few months ago, both of the new adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book were due to be released in cinemas.

Warner Bros had already delayed the release of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle by two years – in order to avoid a box office clash with Disney’s 2016 remake.

But then, once the movie had been completed and its October release date set, this summer the studio decided to sell the rights to Netflix, who instead unleashed it to their subscribers at the weekend.

Despite having a limited theatrical release, it essentially means that Mowgli, which is directed by Serkis, will mostly be seen in living rooms and on laptops.

“Coming two-and-a-half-years after Walt Disney’s acclaimed adaptation of The Jungle Book, the darker, grittier Jungle Book was always going to be a super-tough sell,” wrote Scott Mendelson in Forbes when the film flipped studios.

“While it is technically a ‘surprise’ that Netflix purchased the global streaming rights… it makes sense. It’s a smart way to get rid of a likely box office bomb.”

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David Appleby

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Rohan Chand plays Mowgli in the Andy Serkis-directed film

It’s not the first time Netflix has picked up a completed film – at the beginning of this year it bought The Cloverfield Paradox from Paramount, as the studio was reportedly worried about its potential with audiences.

Serkis warmly welcomed Mowgli’s move, acknowledging that the release of the other Jungle Book remake had been the only fly in the ointment while making the film.

“Every aspect of the creative process was a joyful experience,” he tells BBC News.

“The only major problem in the whole thing when the script was commissioned at Warner Bros around 2011 – I came on board in 2013 – was that another production was looming all of a sudden. And that really began to make the studio fearful.”

Disney’s version was directed by Jon Favreau and featured the voices of Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson.

“[The other film] never really bothered me because I knew that the Disney remit was very particular,” Serkis explains.

“It was always going to be a four-quadrant, big, wide, family, popcorn film probably emulating the 1967 animation, using the songs etc.

“Ours was nowhere near that story, we were doing something completely different.

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Getty Images

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Sir Ben Kingsley and Neel Sethi starred in the Jon Favreau-directed Disney film

“We were going back to the source material, I knew exactly the tone of the story I wanted to tell, coming from the tone of the book, so none of that really bothered me.”

Mowgli is different from The Jungle Book in several ways. It’s a darker, non-musical version which has a few extra characters and a slightly different plot.

Featuring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett, Serkis’s movie received mixed reviews from critics when it was released over the weekend.

“The film is not without spectacle, but it is strangely without soul. That would’ve made it a disappointment to anyone buying a movie ticket, but perhaps at home, it will make for a more welcome distraction,” said Variety.

Screen Rant added: “It’s a decent story and an ambitious take on the iconic Jungle Book character. Despite the unevenness in its story, Netflix’s Mowgli is a much more accurate adaptation of Kipling’s Jungle Book novels than any other mainstream movie adaptation.”

Hollywood is, of course, littered with examples of “twin films” – where two films about the same thing are released in close proximity.

Whether it’s Antz and A Bug’s Life or Deep Impact and Armageddon, there are countless times when this has happened in the film industry.

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Dreamworks / Disney Pixar

Indeed, there have been several more examples of twin films in 2018 alone.

Two movies about the 2011 Norway massacre were released this year; Paul Greengrass’s 22 July and Utoya by Norwegian director Erik Poppe.

Another subject – gay conversion therapy – also received two different treatments this year, with the release of both The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, and Boy Erased, with Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman.

“When I first heard, as we were about to head into pre-production, that another movie was being made, I was definitely like ‘Oh, damn’,” Boy Erased’s director Joel Edgerton tells BBC News. “But I think that’s the only time I’ve ever been at all worried about it.

“Because my answer to that in many ways is that every year I see that there’s like 20+ superhero movies, there’s dozens of romantic comedies, there’s 50 horror movies.

“It’s like, if there isn’t enough room in this time for two conversion movies in one space then that’s crazy.”

The main issue, presumably is whether the director of the film that comes second feels disadvantaged in any way; as if they’re making their movie in the shadow of another. Was that a problem for Serkis?

“Creatively, not,” he replies. “I’m happy that I have made the film that I set out to make. I suppose in terms of perception, there was a shadow cast to a certain degree, in terms of the commercial aspect.

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Getty Images

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Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased competed with The Miseducation of Cameron Post

“Jon Favreau’s version made $960m (£754m) at the box office, so people ascribe a success to that, and I umm’d and ahh’d about seeing the movie for a long time.

“We’d made our movie, we were in the long post production when theirs came out… I think [Warner Bros] took the brunt, the big fear of ‘how can we compete with that’, but in terms of the creativity, I just didn’t waver.”

For Edgerton, the other film about gay conversion therapy was, he felt, sufficiently different to his own.

“The beauty is Cameron Post’s central character is a young lady, it’s a cheekier satirical aspect to its tone… there are enough points of difference between that they can definitely be a different meal on the menu for different people,” he says.

Despite production for Mowgli beginning before its rival, it has launched on Netflix a full 30 months after Disney’s version, which Serkis did watch when it was released in cinemas.

“I did, I went to see it, just out of due diligence really, to check that there weren’t any major crossovers and while we still had time, and there weren’t,” he says.

“And I thought there were some amazing, wonderful set pieces really, but it was just a completely different beast, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

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