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Can ‘Mowgli’ Sell MovieGoers on a Darker ‘Jungle Book’?

Warner Bros. needs to convince moviegoers that they prefer their Kipling a bit darker.

The studio is faced with the unenviable task of following up Disney’s 2016 box office smash “The Jungle Book” with “Mowgli,” their own take on the “man cub” who was raised by wolves. Based on footage that Warner Bros. screened for theater owners on Tuesday at CinemaCon, they’re scrapping the “Bear Necessities” and remaining more faithful to Rudyard Kipling’s original stories.

Director Andy Serkis promised that the film will be a “darker retelling” of the story that is far removed from Disney’s 1967 animated classic and more recent live-action version. Flanked by stars Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Rhys and Rohan Chand, Serkis said the film will be an “epic story of a child becoming a warrior.”

The trailer made it clear that this is a moodier fable, one that might not be suitable for very young children. Shere Khan looks ready to disembowel Mowgli, Kaa seems primed to make him a meal, and Mowgli himself seems older and more like a rebellious teenager than the cartoon’s lovable tyke. It’s an undeniably sumptuous affair, which must have cost a pretty penny.

It’s also not clear it will work. Hollywood studios have long duked it out over divergent takes on similarly theme material. Sometimes it works. “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” both dramatized humanity’s efforts to survive planet-threatening asteroids, while still managing to succeed at the box office. Other times there’s a clear loser in these kind of face-offs. “Snow White & the Huntsman” and “Mirror Mirror” had dueling takes on the familiar fairy tale. Only one succeeded, and it wasn’t the one with Julia Roberts.

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