Disney is sparing no expense for the live-action remake of the animated 1967 adaptation of "The Jungle Book," at least as far as casting is concerned.
According to CNN, Christopher Walken will play King Louie, an orangutan who sang jazz in the original animated film. Giancarlo Esposito will play Akela, the leader of the wolf pack that adopts the human child Mowgli.
Mowgli will be played by Neel Sethi, who is the only largely unknown actor to be cast so far. Ten-year-old Sethi will also be the only live-action character onscreen, according to Playbill.
The rest of the characters will be computer-generated, including those of Walken and Esposito.
Walken's character, King Louie, has faced controversy in the past. The original voice actor for the character in the 1967 film was an African-American, and the design and lines given to the orangutan have since been accused of being racist, as the Monitor previously reported.
In casting Walken, a white actor, for the role, it seems that Disney is trying to avoid past mistakes.
Controversy aside, the original King Louie is known primarily for his musical numbers. While there has been no official announcement as to whether Walken will sing in the role, it would not be the first time he's done so. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor was recently cast as Captain Hook in an upcoming NBC live production of the musical "Peter Pan" and has sung and danced in many other roles as well, including "Pennies from Heaven" (1981), "Hairspray" (2007), and "Jersey Boys" (2014).
Esposito will also find himself in familiar territory. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor has played a Disney character before. In season one of "Once Upon a Time," a television show that features many Disney-esque versions of fairy tales, the actor played a genie that turned into the magic mirror of "Snow White" fame.
Disney's "The Jungle Book" will be directed by Jon Favreau, and is set to be released October 9, 2015. The film is not to be confused with the upcoming Warner Brothers film of the same name directed by Andy Serkis.
Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.