The story of the lost boy raised in a jungle by a pack of wolves has had a prolonged life on the big screen. The earliest reference goes back all the way to 1942 when the Hungarian Korda brothers brought to life Rudyard Kipling’s stories with a lot of snarling beasts to make it a spectacle which led to four Oscar nominations (though no wins). The latest version of the classic tale came to theatres only a few weeks back, with a sequel already been greenlit. There is also the adaptation from Warner Bros., being directed by Andy Serkis, yet to be seen, which has now been rescheduled for a release in October 2018. So Mowgli is bound to occupy our minds for quite some more time.
While the magic of the original stories do make for spectacular film-making, even though each director has taken his liberties with the tale, have they all been successful enough that studios continue to invest in Mowgli and his animal friends? The most famous Jungle Book tale dates back to 1967, when Walt Disney oversaw the animated version which became an overnight success. Sadly, Walt Disney died during the movie’s production, never to see his creation materialise on screen. The Jungle Book of 1967 was made on a production budget of $4 million, and grossed over $73 million in its first release alone in the United States! There would be subsequent re-releases as well as foreign showings on account of which the movie’s theatrical earnings soared to $206 million worldwide.
Those were not the days when studios rushed to followup originals with sequels, prequels and all sorts of spin-offs. So no further announcements were made on The Jungle Book by Disney. It was only in 1994 that Disney released another movie that went by the same name, but this time it was a live-action movie with a older Mowgli played by Jason Scott Lee. The 1994 version was as big a failure at the box-office as the 1967 version was a success. Despite generally favourable reviews from the critics, the movie managed earnings of only $43 million at the box-office as against its production budget of $30 million – a flop!
In 1997, TriStar Pictures distributed a lesser known version of Mowgli titled The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo. It was panned by the critics and released in only about a 100 theatres in North America before quickly disappearing away with negligible box-office collections. In 1998, another live-action movie was released titled The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story. But this one did not have any theatrical release; instead, it was a direct-to-video film distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
Only in 2003 did we get the sequel to Disney’s 1967 hit film. An animated musical version, The Jungle Book 2, was not a masterpiece like the previous one, but still a more enjoyable version than the kind of movies the previous decade had brought. The critics did not really warm up to The Jungle Book 2 but the audience was not shy to visit the theatres. Made on a production budget of $20 million, the movie earned $136 million worldwide which includes collection of $48 million from North America. Not as spectacular as the 1967 movie, but nonetheless, The Jungle Book 2 was a theatrical hit.
It’s been more than a decade before Disney brought back the tale of the lost jungle boy, this time with the benefits of spectacular CGI and the experience of Jon Favreau. 2016’s The Jungle Book has been delighting the audience worldwide. It has been made on a huge production budget of $175 million, but that’s a figure which it will recover and also provide good profits to Disney. The movie opened with $103 million in North America last weekend. It has already earned close to $400 million worldwide so far, with this weekend’s estimates yet to be completely announced. The movie’s positive reviews and the story’s global appeal will certainly push the box-office earnings to a far higher number in the weeks to come. It’s the third hit version based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories that Disney has produced over the past five decades!
Warner Bros. is now set to enter the Indian jungles with a movie adaptation slated for a 2018 release. With just a 2-year gap from Disney’s release, it will be interesting to see what differences does the studio introduce to make its movie version stand out. For as history has shown us, even though the audience loves Mowgli and his tales, it does not become a success every time it hits the big screen!