In the biggest acquisition of a finished film it has made so far, Netflix has acquired from Warner Bros the worldwide rights to “Mowgli”, the CGI live action film directed by Andy Serkis.
Serkis, making his directorial debut on the film, tells Deadline that he feels the online streamer is a better fit for the movie – and he hopes they’ll still release his 3D version in theaters.
“I’m really excited about Netflix for Mowgli,” Serkis said. “Now, we avoid comparisons to the other movie and it’s a relief not to have the pressure. I’ve seen the 3D version, and it’s exceptional, a different view from the 2D version, really lush and with great depth, and there will be some kind of theatrical component for that. What excites me most is the forward thinking at Netflix in how to present this, and the message of the movie. They understand this is a darker telling that doesn’t fit it into a four quadrant slot. It’s really not meant for young kids, though I think it’s possible that 10 or above can watch it. It was always meant to be PG-13, and this allows us to go deeper, with darker themes, to be scary and frightening in moments. The violence between animals is not gratuitous, but it’s definitely there. This way of going allows us to get the film out without compromise.”
The film, based on “The Jungle Book” stories, was originally set to hit theaters October 19 via Warner Bros. It will now air on Netflix in 2019.
The film stars Christian Bale as the cunning panther Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as the sinister snake Kaa, Benedict Cumberbatch as the deadly tiger Shere Khan, Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris as the female wolf Nisha, and Serkis as the wise bear Baloo. Surrounding them in live action roles are The Americans‘ Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto and Rohan Chand plays Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves.
Serkis says his film is very different to the Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” – but that film has ultimately hurt it’s chances at the box-office, thus the move to Netflix.
“When I came on the project, the script commissioned by Warner Bros was very close to the tone of the Kipling book,” Serkis told Deadline. “It was very focused on Mowgli, this outsider, this outcast. The metaphor for the whole movie is other-ness, a search for self-identity. In the book, he is this feral child raised in the strong traditions of the wolf pack, and when he gets to the point in life where he realizes they are not his family it’s a cataclysmic moment for him. He tries to assimilate in the world of men, for his own safety. He finds there are customs that are good and bad, just like in the other kingdom, and he sets out on a journey of self-discovery to create his own morality. There is real jeopardy and consequence here, with an emotional resonance meant to be for a slightly older audience than most of the Jungle Book films we’ve seen. That was reflected in the script and how it was cast, and the whole way we approached the design of the animals. The human being and the animals are emotionally truthful, and not in any way were we tipping the wink to the audience that this is a fairy tale.”
“Then, of course, we found ourselves in this race with Disney and there was a when we were neck and neck, in who would come first,” Serkis said. “Both studios wanted to be first. But we realized that the performance capture techniques required time in how I wanted to work in post, and we decided to let the other film have its moment. By that point, we’d shot the whole thing, and we did a series of pickup shots that we wanted to have in time for post production.”
“I think this is their largest acquisition, it’s a big movie,” Serkis said. “But I never looked at it as a big blockbuster movie. It’s hard to quantify. It has the scale of a blockbuster, but it’s somewhere between Life of Pi and an Apes movie. It has that reality to it, same as Okja had. We are talking about 2019 and circling dates. Netflix has allowed the film making that I wanted to do, to exist and they’ve created an atmosphere for me kind of storytelling I set out to do. “