You’d think that Disney had the screen rights all sewn up for adaptations of Rudyard Kipling‘s story collection The Jungle Book. But in fact the book is public domain. (It was when Walt Disney set the animated film into motion, too.) And there have been a few live-action films over the years, some by Disney, some not. Now we may soon see a new version of the story of the boy Mowgli, raised in the Indian jungle by Baloo the bear and Bagheera, a black panther.
Meanwhile, in an interesting turn of events, today also sees a deal through which Disney will produce and distribute a film based on Neil Gaiman‘s novel The Graveyard Book. That novel was written with the express inspiration of The Jungle Book, though in Gaiman’s text the jungle is replaced with — you got it — a cemetery.
Variety and Deadline both claim the exclusive to report that Warner Bros. has set Steve Kloves, who scripted seven of the eight Harry Potter films, to write and direct a new live-action version of The Jungle Book. Kloves previously directed The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone.
We don’t have any details on how Kloves will approach the adaptation, nor which of Kipling’s stories he will use as raw material. Given the buzz we’re hearing this week about Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that approach being the basis for this film — in other words, we’ll see a human actor playing Mowgli alongside animals who are realized mostly though CGI.
Only a handful of the stories in The Jungle Book feature Mowgli, but the Disney film ensured that he is the most famous character from the book. The animated movie changed quite a few things from Kipling’s stories, and given the trend toward faithful adaptations that has developed over the years, I would expect to see Kloves create something that hews a bit more closely to Kipling’s text.
Deadline reports on Disney’s pickup of The Graveyard Book. That novel was optioned a while back by the UK company Framestore, which at one point had Neil Jordan attached to direct, with Chris Columbus and South Korean company CJ Entertainment producing. That version didn’t come together, and while Framestore renewed the option on the book, Disney ultimately brought Framestore in as a producer. So now the project has the backing of Disney and could end up being a big priority for the studio.
It’s possible that the Jordan version didn’t happen because Gaiman didn’t like his screenplay for the film. The author said Jordan’s first draft was “too faithful,” and if further drafts didn’t develop well, that might have been the end of that. But this is just speculation. Regardless, Disney has the reins now.
Here’s the description of Gaiman’s novel:
While a highly motivated killer murders his family, a baby, ignorant of the horrific goings-on but bent on independence, pulls himself out of his crib and toddles out of the house and into the night. This is most unfortunate for the killer, since the baby was his prime target. Finding his way through the barred fence of an ancient graveyard, the baby is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a stable and caring couple with no children of their own—and who just happen to be dead. After much debate with the graveyard’s rather opinionated denizens, it is decided that the Owenses will take in the child. Under their care and the sponsorship of the mysterious Silas, the baby is named “Nobody” and raised among the dead to protect him from the killer, who relentlessly pursues him. This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming.