Last week I had the immense pleasure of attending The Jungle Book press conference held in Beverly Hills, California. It was an honor to be in such talented company for such an amazing film and I feel so very fortunate for having been there. During the press conference, I learned 5 things about The Jungle Book that I would like to share with you.
1. Inspired by Walt Disney & Rudyard Kipling But For A New Generation
Rudyard Kipling’s book was written 100 years ago, the original Walt Disney Animation Studios The Jungle Book was created 50 years ago and now 2016 The Jungle Book was created as an update to the story for our generation.
Filmmakers didn’t set out to create a exact literal remake of the classic Walt Disney Animation film, nor a total return to Kipling’s book version. Finding just the right tone for this new version of the story was a fundamental priority. Favreau’s adaptation of “The Jungle Book” draws its inspiration from the beloved Disney animated classic, while still retaining the rudimentary feeling inherent in Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. The Jungle Book is loyal to the animated film’s characters mixed with some of the realism and tone in Kipling’s stories.
Says Favreau, “We kept going back to the basic idea of Mowgli as a boy raised in the jungle who is forced to leave because of the presence of this big, bad enemy – the tiger Shere Khan. We have Mowgli, who’s living a happy-go lucky life, but doesn’t quite fit in a jungle because he’s human. Although he’s been raised by wolves and lived in the jungle, he doesn’t have the physical attributes required to survive in that environment. The jungle – beautiful, with some friendly inhabitants – is a very dangerous place. “We borrow from Kipling in that it’s an environment where there’s real jeopardy,” continues the director. “It’s not safe for a kid. We took the basic story structure of the animated film, but we do it in a way that has higher stakes. We play with a tone that has a lot more jeopardy and where survival isn’t necessarily a given.”
Disney’s 1967 animated film, “The Jungle Book,” was the last film that Walt Disney oversaw. He passed away in 1966, the year before the film’s release.
2. Perfect All-Star Cast
Given a roster of memorable characters that won the hearts of many nearly five decades ago, filmmakers wanted to maintain the magic of the familiar faces, while adding a unique spin that promises to win new fans. They called on a charismatic newcomer to play Mowgli, and utilized cutting-edge technology and an all-star voice cast to bring to life his animal counterparts. According to producer Brigham Taylor, the voice cast—which is like a who’s who of Hollywood—was the dream cast. “I’m happy to be able to say that our cast were all the very first choices that Jon Favreau had in mind, which speaks to the pedigree of the project and Jon’s status among the actor community as a director.”
“Like a chef needs to use the proper ingredients to prepare the perfect meal, a filmmaker needs the right cast,” says Favreau. “As with all of my films, it always starts with the cast. I have to have a great cast and the right mix of actors, otherwise, I can’t do my job properly—especially when you’re making a new version of a film that’s already so loved.
With a set of immense voice talent of The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau wanted The Jungle Book to feel like a live-action film and not an animated film, so he felt the key was to conversational performance. During the press conference, Director Jon Favreau stated that in actor performances, the actors rely upon their scene partner, mirror each other, key off each other and acting is a bit of a tennis match therefore he wanted The Jungle Book to feel as natural as possible and recorded the actors together as much as possible to give the film a conversational feeling.
Although Sir Ben Kingsley admits that the secret to his performance wasn’t discovered until much later, he noted during the press conference that he had an intuitive grasp of something in him and that it wasn’t until much later that he realized he was playing Kipling – Bagheera is the voice of reason and the voice of Kipling in the story.
Walt Disney’s vision of Fantasound was to enable the movie going audience to feel as though they were in the middle of the music. the music. What is required was to put speakers all around the theaters (cost a lot of money). This effect was acheived by mic the orchestra with isolated microphones.
When it came time for Favreau to create the sound for The Jungle Book he noted: “Wouldn’t it be cool to explore what Fantasound would sound like now”. So he went to his sound engineer and he noted that Atmos theaters are already rigged with speakers all around the theater for sound effects and there was no reason you couldn’t use the speakers for music. So Jon Favreau and his sound crew mic’d the orchestra and isolated instruments when they could. If you see the film in Atmos you will feel like the instruments move around the theater. Specifically in Dolby theaters you will feel a version of what Walt Disney himself was trying to accomplish with Fantasound.
Filmmakers cast newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. As the only human character to appear on screen, Sethi was called on to not only portray the beloved Mowgli—but to also have the ability to anchor the film emotionally. During the press conference director Jon Favreau spoke to the innate nature of Need Sethi to be compelling throughout the entire film. “Finding the right kid to play Mowgli was imperative,” says Favreau. “We did an exhaustive worldwide search of 2,000 kids before we found Neel. He was one of the last people that I looked at, and right away, I felt that he had the same emotional and physical qualities that Mowgli had in the ’67 animated version. His look was uncanny in how much he evoked what we wanted. He inherently had a good sense of fun and humor.” According to casting director Sarah Finn, Sethi won the role with his personality. “Neel embodies the heart, humor, and daring of the character,” says Finn. “He’s warm and accessible, yet also has an intelligence well beyond his years and impressed us all with his ability to hold his own in any situation. His natural charisma and instincts jumped out at us.”
Jon, On Directing Neel
Directing Neel Sethi as Mowgli was much like being a coach says director Jon Favreau. In the scene where Mowgli is running away from the stampede of Buffalo, using directing words such as “be more poised” wasn’t working so he stopped and asked Neel if he ever played baseball and then directed Neel to run as if he was stealing 2nd base!
5. Cool Stuff Happens When You Just Go For It
Once upon a time I was very shy and I felt as though I missed out on a lot of opportunites because I could never quite come out of my shell fast enough. Now as a fully-confident adult when given the opportunity to have fun I just go for it. Like I did with this fun green screen.
Given the prompt that we were walking in the jungle with Baloo and playing the part of Mowgli, we were supposed to reply within the 20 seconds we were alloted: “But Bagheera told me to go to the man village”. Those were the official directions but it was suggested that we could improvise. So I did. And this is what I came up with. I know, I’m weird. You can’t even hear what Baloo is saying because everyone is laughing at my dedicated Jungle tromp.
The Jungle Book opens in theatres everywhere in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D on April 15th!