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Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch claim their 'Mowgli' is darkest 'Jungle Book' ever: 'It's closer tonally to the "Apes" movies'

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

Andy Serkis has promised that his riff on Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book will be a much darker take than we’ve seen in the past, and fans are getting a first look at the goods with Monday’s release of the action-packed trailer for Mowgli (watch below).

At CinemaCon in Las Vegas in April, Serkis explained how the PG-13-rated Mowgli will depart from previous versions, like the Jon Favreau-directed box office hit The Jungle Book, released in 2016, and of course Disney’s original animated version released 50 years ago.

“It’s closer tonally to the Apes movies than it is to the [1967 animated film],” said Serkis, best known for his motion-capture work as Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and who made his directorial debut in 2017 with the Andrew Garfield drama Breathe. “It depends on what your gauge is. … But I would say it’s safe to take 9- or 10-year-olds. I wouldn’t take 5- or 6-year-olds — it’s very scary.”

Serkis said the film’s tone is actually closer to the tone of Kipling’s original written material. “That was the intention from the get-go,” he explained. “We wanted to make something that felt authentically turn-of-the-century in colonial India, where Mowgli grows up as a feral child — an orphan who’s brought up with wolves, learns their ways and customs, and then realizes at this complicated teenage point in his life that he isn’t one of them.”

Like the 2016 film, which featured the voices of Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, and Idris Elba, Mowgli boasts an all-star cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan), Cate Blanchett (Kaa), Christian Bale (Bagheera), Naomie Harris (Nisha), and Serkis (Baloo). Unlike that earlier film, however, which leaned heavily on pure CGI, Serkis’s take had his actors performing in motion capture to record their movements.

Serkis certainly relished bringing the cast for a spin in his wheelhouse. “This is so not doing voice-booth acting,” he said. “It’s getting down and dirty [with] head-mounted cameras on. You’re becoming the creature.”

Cumberbatch, who torments Mowgli (Rohan Chand) as the villainous Bengal tiger Shere Khan, seconded Serkis’s emphasis on the scares. “These are primitive animals, these are beasts of the jungle, and their order is one that is not overly humanized,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be quite brutal.”

Both Serkis and Cumberbatch say the film will still have some levity, as well as heavy emotion. “It’s not flippant and lighthearted and [full] of gags; you really believe that these animals are connected to Mowgli,” Serkis explained. “But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are some funny moments in it. But tonally, you feel the jeopardy. You feel the threat. You feel his journey.”

Mowgli opens Oct. 19. Watch a behind-the-scenes clip:

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