Walt Disney Productions
It’s about to be, well, a jungle out there (sorry) as both Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. are hellbent on giving the world a new version of The Jungle Book. So, yes, two versions of The Jungle Book, a beloved children’s book that has already been turned into a movie plenty of times before. But while we wait to hear more about about Andy Serkis‘ feature (that’s the Warner Bros. film, and one that is apparently set to be titled Jungle Book: Origins, because it sounds appropriately sci-fi, oh wait, what?), Jon Favreau‘s set-to-be-CGI-heavy take on the material continues to know it out of the park when it comes to casting.
The latest addition to the cast — Bill Murray as Baloo, come on, people – just proves that, no matter what the final outcome is, this new Jungle Book has a solid lineup of talent behind it. But who is everyone playing? Baloo is the bear, right? What’s a Kaa? Who is Raksha? We got you on this. It’s time to relive your childhood.
Neel Sethi as Mowgli
Mowgli is our orphan king! Left alone in the jungle (thanks, dead parents), Mowgli grows up under the care of a wolf pack. And a bear and a panther. And a snake. Everyone loves this kid, okay? But why shouldn’t they? He’s a fast learner who loves his environment and his friends and family. Sure, a murderous tiger might be trying to kill him at every turn, but saving Mowgli just might mean saving everyone in the entire jungle. Favreau’s film is only Sethi’s second, but the kid looks adorable as all get-out. Here’s a kid who looks like a kid and will likely sound like one, too (imagine that!). He’s going to charm the fur off these guys.
Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo
Yes, Baloo is the bear. That’s him up top with Mowgli and Bagheera (more on him later). When you think of “Jungle Book animals,” Baloo is probably the first one you think of. He’s described best by Kipling himself as “the sleepy brown bear,” and he’s typically portrayed in films as being dozy and laidback. He’s a let the good times roll kinda guy, at least on the big screen. Kipling initially wrote him as a lawyer — a lawyer bear! — but even though we now recognize him as being kinda lazy, one thing doesn’t change in his depictions: he loves Mowgli and he seeks to protect him at every turn. Casting Bill Murray as his voice indicates that we’re probably getting a lazy Baloo, or at least a very footloose and fancy-free one, but the casting is indeed quite good. Murray is essentially the world’s Baloo anyway.
Ben Kingsley as the voice of Bagheera
Like Baloo, Bagheera is defined by his love for Mowgli. The pair initially save the little tyke and make it their business to teach him about the Law of the Jungle. Bagheera is a serious dude — well, a serious black panther — who has a past being held captive by men, and his disdain for that kind of life shines through. He’s smart and cunning and a damn good hunter, but he’s got a big soft spot for Mowgli and Baloo. Kingsley is an appropriately stately choice that signals that Favreau won’t be going too far off base with his panther.
Christopher Walken as the voice of King Louie
King Louie is a bit of an outlier. The orangutan doesn’t appear in Kipling’s book — hey, turns out, orangutans are not native to India — but he’s a beloved character in the 1967 Disney musical. Louis Prima gave the lovable goofball a distinct voice and style, and it’s one that’s going to be hard to match. Walken is, again, a great pick here. He’s going to be able to infuse Louie with the kind of self-seriousness any king just naturally has, but with a nodding irony that should keep things fresh and funny.
Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of Akela
In traditional Kipling lore, Mowgli is adopted by an Indian wolf pack, of which Akela is their leader. Like Baloo and Bagheera, Akela is dedicated to Mowgli and seeks to both protect him and teach him how to survive on his own. In the original Disney version, Akela doesn’t appear much — which is probably a good thing, because in Kipling’s book, he’s cast out by his own tribe because of his dedication to Mowgli and he eventually dies while protecting him. That’s not something that’s going to be easy and/or fun to put on the big screen, if it makes it into the film at all. Then again, nothing says “hey, serious thing here” like Breaking Bad‘s number one baddie, so perhaps Favreau is willing to go darker here.
Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of Raksha
Raksha is Akela’s wife and Mowgli’s adopted mom. Her inclusion in the story — and the casting of a newbie Oscar winner and growing star like Nyong’o — seems to indicate that we’ll be seeing more of the wolf pack in this version than we have in other outings. Ready your hankies.
Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Kaa
Everyone loves Mowgli, you get that by now, right? In Kipling’s book, Kaa serves as yet another mentor to Mowgli, but for the original Disney film, he was reimagined as comic relief who tries to kill Mowgli via snake-like crushing and his ability to hypnotize anyone and everyone (except for Shere Khan). Putting Johansson in the part is a nice way to mix things up, but the actress’ famously smooth voice also indicates that she might be sticking to the hypnotizing side of Kaa.
Idris Elba as the voice of Shere Khan
Shere Khan is bad, bad, bad news. The badass Bengal tiger is the primary villain of The Jungle Book. He’s a man-eater who never exhibits any kind of empathy for little Mowgli. It’s that problem that drives most of the drama of Jungle Book stories — everyone is always afraid that Shere Khan is going to eat Mowgli. It freaks out Baloo and Bagheera. It freaks out the wolves. It’s awful. The casting of Elba probably means we’re going to get a smooth-talking Shere Khan who may be able to fool some of the animals, at least for a little bit.
The Jungle Book will hit theaters on October 9, 2015.