Warner Bros. The Jungle Book adaptation just got a little more star-studded and a lot more crowded.

The Lord of the Rings and Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Andy Serkis’ directorial debut has just added Batman himself, Christian Bale, as the voice of the panther Bagheera in the Rudyard Kipling tale, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This comes on the heels of the announcement of Serkis’ The Hobbit trilogy costar Benedict Cumberbatch as the ruthless tiger Shere Khan. (*your Wrath of Khan joke here*)

Origins will retell Kipling’s tale of Mowgli, the wayward human boy who is raised by wolves and schooled in the ways of the jungle by Bagheera and the jovial bear Baloo. In addition to Bale and Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett has been cast as the python Kaa, while Naomie Harris and Tom Hollander will portray members of Mowgli’s wolf clan.

The casting for the rival felines couldn’t be more spot-on. Cumberbatch is old hat at affecting a menacing purr that can stop would-be heroes cold, as see in Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Conversely, Bale’s rasp and natural English accent will bring a dignity, gravitas, and world-weariness to Bagheera as Mowgli’s teacher.

From all accounts, this version of Mowgli’s adventures will remain truer to Kipling’s collected tales, originally published in 1897. Whereas Disney is also producing a competing CGI version of The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau (Iron ManSwingers) that will reflect the family-approachable vibe of the company’s original cartoon adaptation, Origins will pull from the dark atmosphere that permeates the tales in the original novel.

The name of the film suggests that Warner Bros. has a strategy for making Origins a new multi-film franchise, should the initial outing prove successful. My assumption, based solely on my knowledge and grade school memories of reading and re-reading Mowgli’s adventures, is that Origins will, obviously, focus on the man cub’s stumbling into the jungle and encountering the jungle’s denizens. I would think that the film would conclude with Mowgli’s showdown with Shere Khan for the right to exist in the jungle.

But what about future films? Serkis and company have a lot of material from which to pull, as Kipling’s tale doesn’t end with the defeat of Shere Khan at Mowgli’s hands. In later tales, Mowgli returns to his human village, only to be pursued by a vengeful and bitter Shere Khan. Shere Khan’s hubris results in his allies being murdered and Mowgli skinning the tiger and dancing on his hide.  Oh, and Mowgli is ostracized from his human brethren after accusations of sorcery. So, Warner Bros. has a lot to work with if it wants to build a franchise of films that will carry the company into the next decade. Here’s hoping the studio doesn’t become gun-shy and instead give into the primal side of Kipling’s tales. For my money, it’s time to do these stories justice and pull back the Disney-coated veneer.

The Jungle Book: Origins will hit theaters October 21, 2016.

[Source: The Hollywood Reporter]