In the biggest acquisition of a finished film it has made, Netflix has acquired the worldwide rights to Andy Serkis-directed Mowgli from Warner Bros.
Instead of the October 19th theatrical release that Warner Bros. had planned, the film will instead be released globally via the streaming service in 2019, with a theatrical component built in, so audiences will still be able to see the 3D version Serkis has been working on.
Mowgli, based on Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, boasts an all-star cast, including Christian Bale as panther Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as snake Kaa, Benedict Cumberbatch as tiger Shere Khan, Naomie Harris as wolf Nisha, and Serkis himself as Mowgli’s bear companion, Baloo. That’s not all though, as surrounding them in the live-action roles as Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto, and Rohan Chand, who plays the titular character.
While there won’t be an official theatre release, Serkis himself hopes that there will be a way to work in a theatrical component, so that audiences will also be able to enjoy the 3D version of the story. But, in Netflix’s release plans, Serkis’ film will reach an enormous global audience, who will all be able to enjoy the darker, more dangerous retelling of jungle adventure.
Serkis told Deadline: “When I came on the project, the script commissioned by Warner Bros was very close to the tone of the Kipling book. 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,” he continued, “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.”
While many may see this news and consider this move a step down for the production, Serkis himself thinks that they couldn’t be more wrong, “I’m really excited about Netflix for Mowgli. 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.”
Read more of Serkis’ interview with Deadline, here.