This morning, Disney announced that Sir Ben Kingsley would be playing the role of Bagheera in the live-action/animated The Jungle Book for director Jon Favreau (Chef, Iron Man/Iron Man 2).
The not-quite-Mandarin will voice the black panther who serves as friend and mentor to wild boy Mowgli, helping raise him among a pack of wolves. Sir Ben joins Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, and Lupita Nyong’o in the cast for the October 2015 release. Kingsley seems like a solid choice for the role – he can be subdued, cool, and nuanced, and under a careful director, he can let loose and be both funny and frightening (see The Sexy Beast for the latter).
Also: how good was Kingsley as Trevor? So good, that’s how good.
In the novel, Bagheera uses his cunning to escape captivity under the Rajah, later making his way to the jungle and earning the respect of the other animals. It’s this that allows him to speak for Mowgli when the boy’s wolf parents attempt to bring him into the pack. He’ll continue to help raise Mowgli until the boy becomes a man and must return to the world of men.
I wonder how much Sebastian Cabot’s performance in the 1967 animated film will inform Kingsley’s performance. Cabot’s Bagheera was warm, and sometimes argumentative with the easy-going Baloo. It’s the version in my head, but a skilled actor like Sir Ben might want to go his own way.
Kingsley is exceptionally busy: he provided voicework for Laika’s latest stop-motion feature, The Boxtrolls, and he has a role in the next Night at the Museum feature for director Shawn Levy.