Like most people that have laid eyes on The Jungle Book, Mowgli director Andy Serkis is a huge fan of Disney’s 1967 take on Rudyard Kilpling’s collection of short stories.
Yet, as such an avid fan of Kipling’s work, Serkis always pined to make a darker version of The Jungle Book that was more authentic to his 1894 release. So in 2013 when Warner Bros. put a script in the burgeoning director’s hand that was just that he immediately set aside his plans to adapt George Orwell’s Animal Farm and put all of his efforts into The Jungle Book.
“This script was a much different take. One that is much closer to the book,” Serkis tells Metro. “It is a Mowgli centric story, and covers much darker themes. About otherness, self-discovery, and how you fit into the world, a shifting and changing world, too. It was a really much more complex and psychologically involving story really.”
Andy Serkis & Mowgli vs The Jungle Book
As Serkis points out, Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle is also the first to put the titular character at the center of the story, too.
“With the other adaptations Mowgli has almost been left out. It should be his central story. But in actual fact there has been a lot of emphasis on the terms and actions of the animals. They become the central focus. I think that in the past Mowgli and his journey, his rite of passage, hasn’t been fully explored.”
Even though Serkis was more than happy with his take on the story, there was a problem. Jon Favreau and Disney were making their own Jungle Book movie, one that was an adaptation of the their 1967 animated film.
Serkis insists that because Favreau’s version “was just coming into being” when they began pre-production it never impacted what they wanted to do, though. In fact, it made the Lord Of The Rings star even more convinced that he had to strictly adhere to the source material.
“It has been a challenge, the pre-conception of what this story is and what the characters are,” says Serkis. “If you ask most people what their memories of The Jungle Book they automatically talk about the 1967 version. A lot of people don’t even know that the book exists.”
“So it was with that in mind that we wanted to get back into the tone of the book,” he adds. “Which is much more plugged into a certain period, its culture is specifically set in India, it is a real emotional journey. There is humor, too. But it is a harsher world.”
It’s not too harsh, though, as Serkis keenly insists that he Mowgli: Legend Of Jungle is “not like an R-rated version.” In his opinion, “You can’t take your 4 or 5-year-olds to see it. But you can probably take your 8-year-olds.”
But that didn’t stop Serkis from diving into the darker themes of the story to make sure that it and the plight of Mowgli would resonate with a modern audience.
“I did want it to resonant with modern audiences in a world, where we are living in a fracture society. Where so many people are wondering, ‘How do I fit in?’” says Serkis. “There are millions of refugees being displaced, teenagers don’t know how to interact because they are isolated by being behind screens or not communicating. It seems to me a very relevant and very modern day piece.”
Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle debuts Dec. 7 on Netflix.