The Jungle Book rivalry is thickening, in case you did not already know. The 1894 published book on the human boy Mowgli and his jungle friends has set off a great contest more than a century later between two big Hollywood studios, Disney and Warner Bros. No one owns the copyrights for the material any more, and so each one is free to use the tales written by Rudyard Kipling. And that is what is happening in quick succession. If history is anything to go by when two Hollywood studios clash on a similar theme, then both could succeed, both could fail, or one of them might only be triumphant. In other words, we do not know what is going to happen.
What do we know so far? Let’s pen them down.
a) Disney is set to win the first round as far as the release dates are concerned. Disney’s The Jungle Book is slated for a October 2015 release while Warner Bros.’ The Jungle Book: Origins will release a whole year later in October 2016. These are both live-action movies, mind you, and not something like the animated version of 1967.
b) Disney has Jon Favreau on board as the director, the man who provided the delightful Iron Man and the rather disappointing Cowboys & Aliens and bounced back recently with the indie flick Chef. Warner Bros. was linked with a few big names before it finalised on Andy Serkis, who is a master in the art of motion capture (King Kong, Gollum, the ape Caesar etc.), but will be making his directing debut with this film, though he has been the second unit director before.
c) Disney’s version is being written by Justin Marks who hasn’t really been associated with anything memorable in the past. Warner Bros. has got debutant writer Callie Kloves on board.
d) As far as the casting is concerned, Disney has almost all the characters lined up, while Warner Bros. has recently bagged its first big name. And this is what we are going to talk about.
As Hollywood Reporter has revealed, the rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch has been roped in by Warner Bros. to voice the sinister and dangerous antagonist of the movie, the man-eating tiger Shere Khan. Anyone who has either read the books, or seen the old Disney tale, or the TV cartoon series, would be nodding his or her head right now, going “What a perfect choice this is!” Benedict Cumberbatch has what it takes when it comes to throwing a booming voice from one end to another. Remember him as another Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness? The power behind his voice added so much to the super-strong personality of his character in that film.
Cumberbatch is known more famously to the world as the latest version of Sherlock Holmes through his hit TV series Sherlock. There too, his style of enunciating, communicating, building emotions through his voice alone, is worth salivating over. But if you really want to hear what kind of a commanding presence he can bring through his vocal chords, then hear him in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where he voices the fire-throwing dragon in all his glory. Of course, there would be a lot of tinkering done to make the voice appear from the depths of a really big neck, but the core of that booming sound of Smaug is still Benedict Cumberbatch’s own. There itself you can see someone fitting perfectly in the paws of Shere Khan too.
Cumberbatch will soon be heard (and not seen) again in the animated movie, Penguins of Madagascar, where he will be the voice of Classified, one of the penguins. This one will end up on the funnier side, a bit of a laid-back role for Cumberbatch it seems, after a hectic 2013. But the year will end with the return of Smaug in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, and the return of Cumberbatch’s vocals. There are a lot of other varied film roles we’ll see Benedict Cumberbatch perform before now and the October of 2016, but one now can’t really wait for an encounter with Mowgli’s greatest enemy!
Interestingly, Disney isn’t going lame with its version of Shere Khan too. It has none other than Idris Elba voicing the famous wild cat. Idris Elba recently played Nelson Mandela in a biopic, but to really hear what kind of command Elba’s voice can dictate, go back to Pacific Rim. That line — Today, we are canceling the apocalypse! — still gives me the goosebumps. It’s a terrific choice no doubt, as Disney too is doing justice to its movie’s antagonist. Disney in fact has its lineup all set, with young debutant Neel Sethi as Mowgli, Bill Murray as Baloo, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Lupita Nyong’o as Rakcha, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, apart from Elba as Shere Khan. Warner Bros. has time on its hands, but its eventual line-up will have to match Disney’s. The start with Benedict Cumberbatch though seems good enough!