Why are Disney and Warner gearing up to go to war over ‘The Jungle Book’?

So now we’re down to watching studios fight over public domain properties that have been filmed repeatedly already?


I’m not sure I see the appeal of one new film version of “The Jungle Book,” much less two, but at least I understand why Disney is making theirs. It’s part of their new “You Already Love This, But Now It Has Real People!” franchise along with “Maleficent” and the still-shooting “Cinderella,” and it keeps Jon Favreau in the Disney family, which is something that seems to be important to them. I’m happy for Justin Marks, who has been writing some big projects for the last few years and now seems to finally be seeing one of them come to fruition. I’m sure it’ll be a big slick Disney movie, and I certainly hope it’s good. They’ve already got a release date selected, with the film set to hit theaters October 9, 2015.

Same with the one that was just announced today, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directing from a script by Callie Kloves for Warner Bros. Steve Kloves will be producing the film. While the Disney version’s got a date, it sounds like this one is still very early in the process. That doesn’t mean they can’t make it to theaters first, and I’m sure they’re having that conversation as they work to close the deal with Inarritu. There’s no clear advantage one way or another. What matters most is making a good movie, obviously, but now that you’ve got two treatments of the subject matter in the mix, the stakes are suddenly different.

Talk about familiar subject matter, though. There’s the amazing Korda film from the ’40s with Sabu playing Mowgli. There’s the Steven Sommers version from 1994 with Jason Scott Lee playing Mowgli, and then the studio made two more live-action direct-to-video movies as well. No doubt, that’s all been so that they could keep the title somewhat active in pop culture, all to service the 1967 animated film that introduced some of the most popular characters in the Disney stable.

That doesn’t even take into account the other stories that are part of the Rudyard Kipling collection, some of which have also been adapted for film. I really love the Chuck Jones shorts that he produced for TV, and his “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is one of the closest things I’ve seen to what Kipling actually wrote.

Ultimately, what does it serve when studios get into these pissing matches? Do we really think that either creative team is going to feel great about the situation? Is this how people do their best work, scrambling to beat someone else to a release date?

I don’t want to sound cynical about either one of these films unfairly. I certainly hope they both turn out to be great. But this system can be a real drag some times.