Disney inks deal for new ‘Jungle Book’

Walt Disney Pictures has inked a deal to distribute Vision Intl.’s upcoming $ 15 million to $ 20 million pic “The Jungle Book,” bringing a live-action answer to the studio’s animated classic, it was confirmed Friday.

Set to start principal photography on location in India next December, “The Jungle Book” marks one of Vision’s most ambitious projects to date.

The pic, about the journey back to civilization for a boy brought up by a pack of wolves, is currently in pre-production. Discussions are under way with directors, while Vision and Disney plan an open casting call for the role of the boy, Mowgli.

Vision’s version of “The Jungle Book” has been hotly pursued in Hollywood over the last six weeks, following the company’s quick move to acquire worldwide distribution rights to the movie from producer Raju Shared Patel.

At least four major studios tried to acquire the movie before Disney stepped up with an “extraordinarily aggressive” effort to seize the Rudyard Kipling adaptation, said Vision chairman Mark Damon.

In inking the deal, Disney agreed to put up half of the budget in exchange for rights in the United States, United Kingdom, the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Damon, who has previously been involved in such family films as “The Never-Ending Story” and “Short Circuit,” said he hopes “The Jungle Book” will prove to be “the most important and ambitious film of them all.”

“As I intend to be active in the production of the picture, I can’t imagine better partners than Disney and Raju Patel,” said Damon, who will exec produce with Lawrence Mortoff. Script was written by Ron Yanover and Mark Geldman.

Central in “The Jungle Book” acquisition was Touchstone/Walt Disney Pictures president David Hoberman and Walt Disney Pictures exec VP David Vogel. A meeting between Damon and Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg helped cinch the deal.

Hoberman said Disney considered whether the live-action “Jungle Book” would conflict with its animated classic by director Wolfgang Reitherman, which grossed $ 44.6 million when it was reissued in 1990. In its latest go-round in Europe this year, the animated “Jungle Book” has grossed roughly $ 45 million.

“We don’t think (the live-action and animated versions will) run into each other,” Hoberman said.

The deal is a departure for Vision, which distributes most of its product through Triumph Releasing and Columbia TriStar Home Video. Both Triumph and Columbia TriStar are units of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has a minority ownership interest in Vision.