Well, here we are again, preparing for the release of a movie inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” This time around it’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and the man behind the camera is renowned actor/director Andy Serkis, most well-known as performance capture artist.
As with other adaptations, the story follows Mowgli (Rohan Chand), a boy lost in the jungle and raised as a “man cub” by the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) and other animals. With the boy getting older the dangers he faces are more severe, including from other creatures including Kaa (Cate Blanchett) and Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). This version, though, focuses more on the identity crisis faced by Mowgli as he discovers there are others like him in the jungle, humans he’s not sure he fits in with.
The title character stands defiantly on the first poster, covered in red mud and scars but looking fierce and ready for action, Bagheera off to his side as if he’s preparing to defend his young charge. Mowgli is labeled “Outcast. Survivor. Legend.” to make it clear to the audience that they’ll be following a story of determination.
After Netflix picked up the movie a second poster, now featuring the full title, was released. This one sells a more epic adventure, with Mowgli and Bagheera standing on a cliff and looking out over both the jungle and the human camp. This one positions it as a story of identity with the tagline “The greatest journey is finding where you belong.”
The first trailer, released this past June, offered a pretty dark take on the story, showing Mowgli caged and reluctantly entering the world of man after years of being among the animals. Bagheera encourages him to gain the others’ trust as we flashback to scenes of the panther teaching the boy how to survive. We hear about how he’s grown to be a man now but is fully part of neither world, “something we’ve never seen before.”
That trailer was taken down after the movie was sold by WB to Netflix, which released a new spot in early November, just about a month before it was scheduled to become available for streaming.
It’s less esoteric and difficult than the trailer, showing more of the familiar Jungle Book beats about Mowgli’s friends and rivals in the jungle as well as his curiosity about the world of man. It’s not as funny and bright as last year’s Disney movie and ends with the pitch that it will be both on Netflix and in select theaters.
Online and Social
No online or social presence for the movie, which isn’t wholly unusual though Netflix has done more on this front for other releases lately.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Pre-roll ads appeared on YouTube in the last week or so that used shorter versions of the trailer and the key art has been used for online ads across the web.
Media and Publicity
Of course with Disney putting out their own live-action Jungle Book last year the comparisons were inevitable. Serkis made comments to the press about how his version was going to be darker and for a more mature audience than Disney’s, an effort to clear some space between the two movies. Much later he kept making the case for his version, saying unlike Disney’s effort his was going to use more real locations and effects. Serkis talked about his directorial approach, which has been heavily influenced by his performing career, here while promoting a few other projects.
Eventually the movie’s name was changed from Jungle Book: Origins to the current title, in no small part because of the previous movie’s proximity. A bit after that Serkis and some of the cast showed up at CinemaCon as part of WB’s presentation there to talk about the film and help exhibitors get over any worries they might have over too many Jungle Book projects. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.
A behind-the-scenes featurette included comments from Serkis about what kind of tone he wanted to strike with his adaptation, how lucky he was to get the cast he did and what each actor brought to their character.
Out of nowhere, late-July 2018 brought the news that Warner Bros. had sold worldwide rights to the movie to Netflix, which still included a theatrical release for 3D screenings. Serkis noted that the deal takes some of the pressure of competing against Disney’s recent film off while exposing it to much broader audience. WB meanwhile gets to not worry about trying to market a movie everyone involved has said is darker and more complex than Disney’s.
Things went dark for a little while but in the weeks leading up to release Serkis made a few media appearances to talk up the movie. Also popping around that time was an interview with composer Nitin Sawhney and a first listen at a couple of new songs from the soundtrack.
Bale later spoke about how he got involved in the movie and what he thought was new and interesting in the story.
A feature interview with Serkis had him talking about the previous Jungle Book adaptation and the years he’s spent trying to get this film, with his vision, made. He and others also went into some detail about the behind-the-scenes machinations that resulted in the movie being delayed and eventually sent to Netflix. Serkis also spoke about the process of filming the actors and creating the animals.
You definitely get the message that this is *not* a version of the story that’s going to feature lovable animals carousing around the jungle singing jaunty tunes. Indeed the campaign most clearly sets itself apart from other adaptations by showing only the bare necessities (sorry) of those animals, instead selling this as Mowgli’s story first and foremost.
It is definitely a dark story on display here, so it’s understandable why WB took a pass on the movie after years of dithering uncertainty and scheduling shifts. Throughout all that, the message has been most strongly conveyed by Serkis himself, who’s a big personality and is best positioned to tell audiences what’s going on and why they should take a chance on seeing it.