'Jungle Book' update from 'Breathe' director Andy Serkis in Toronto

Ethan Alter

One of the highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was watching geek icon Andy Serkis walk the red carpet for his directorial debut, Breathe. Starring Andrew Garfield as real-life polio victim and disability rights advocate Robin Cavendish, the film marks Serkis’s evolution from performance capture pioneer in franchises like The Lord of the Rings and the Planet of the Apes trilogy to established filmmaker. In an alternate timeline, though, TIFF audiences this year might have been queuing up to see Serkis’s other directorial debut, The Jungle Book, a hybrid live action/animation hybrid adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel. “At a certain point, Jungle Book could have been my first film,” Serkis told Yahoo Movies in Toronto. He certainly filmed it long before — and we mean long before — Breathe; the Warner Bros.-produced movie originally went before cameras in 2015.

So why did Breathe beat Jungle Book to Toronto? Blame Jon Favreau. After the Iron Man director’s remake of Disney’s 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book became a box office behemoth last year, Warner Bros. delayed Serkis’s film from October 2016 to October 2017 and then pushed it back one more time to October 19, 2018 — a full two years after its original release date. “We’re in post-production now,” the director confirms. “We took a hiatus because of Jon Favreau’s version and also because performance capture takes a long time.” It was during that hiatus that Serkis decided to make Breathe, which also happens to be the first feature produced by his production company, The Imaginarium. (Robin Cavendish’s son, Jonathan, is also Serkis’s partner in the company and a producer of Breathe.)

Breathe was shot in 2016 in South Africa, the same country where Serkis had been making Jungle Book on actual jungle sets populated by a star-packed cast that includes Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Bagheera, Kaa, and Shere Khan, respectively, along with Rohan Chand as Kipling’s youthful hero, Mowgli. (That’s a substantial difference from Favreau’s version, which was filmed entirely in a Los Angeles warehouse tricked out with green screens.) The upside to the prolonged delay for Serkis’s Jungle Book is that it gave the creative team more time to hone the tone and visual style of the film, ensuring it stands apart from Favreau’s production.

“It’s a very Mowgli-centric story,” Serkis says of his take on the tale, which obviously won’t feature the musical numbers heard in either Disney telling. “It’s tonally closer to Kipling’s book. We’re spending a lot of time translating Christian Bale into a panther, and Cate Blanchett into a snake. And using this [extra] time for the editing process, I’ve learned how the story can be affected in so many ways.”

Serkis adds that Breathe functioned as a necessary creative outlet for him during the editing grind. “What was brilliant about shooting Breathe in the middle of this is that when you shoot a scene, what you get in the can is the movie! Not what the movie is going to look like in a year and a half’s time. So I benefitted very much from this other experience.”

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