THE JUNGLE Book is an adventure film you won’t want to miss!
Jon Favreau’s new version of the live-action version of Disney’s classic The Jungle Book is about to swing into theaters on April 15. We had the opportunity to screen the movie early.
The classic Disney film, The Jungle Book, from 1967 was the last animated film Walt Disney worked on. So Mr. Favreau had some big (yellowish) shoes to fill. I think Mr. Favreau did a fantastic job bringing a combination of Disney’s 1967 animated version and the 1894 Rudyard Kipling version together. The cast chosen was perfect. THE JUNGLE Book has all the feels right from the start when you see the iconic Walt Disney Company Castle immersed in a lush scene with a friendly tune you’ll be sure to recognize. There is adventure, laughter, fear, love, and trials in this film.
“If it’s meant to be, it will be.” – Raksha, mother wolf
There are poignant quotes in this movie that will make you take a deep breath and make your soul smile. Raksha’s character is one that throughout the film teaches you to be true to yourself, face your fears, and always listen to your heart. She loves her cubs hard including her man-cub. He is hers, he is part of her pack and Mowgli knows this to his core. This was shown beautifully and such a good reminder to all us parents to make sure all of our kids know how much they are loved… as a pack, as one.
“Never forget this. No matter where you go, you will always be mine… you will be my son” – Raksha, mother wolf
Can we chat a minute about the cast? My family has a tradition after seeing a movie to pick their favorite character and scene. I’m having a VERY hard time picking my favorite character because the film team did such a good job with character development that my heart is drawn to so many of them.
Neel Sethi plays Mowgli and is the only live-action character in the film. All others are a combination of motion captured or hand animated or computer animated. The artists did a phenominal job because you will feel like they actually went to a set of the jungle, somehow tamed a whole bunch of animals until your adult-side kicks in and you remember they all talk.
Are there any scary moments? Yes, yes there are, this involves animals and adventure so there are some scary scenes. I think they are needed though for the storyline. I put my hand on my little guys chest during those scenes. The Jungle Book is rated PG.
“Forget about your worries and your strife”
Baloo will capture your heart and have you laughing throughout the movie. But this comes with no surprise with Bill Murray as the voice. One of my favorite scenes:
“Bears don’t hibernate in the jungle! What are you teaching him?!” – Bagheera
“Not full hibernation but I nap a lot” – Baloo
I’m still blown away at the athleticism of Neel Sethi. Mowgli could win America Ninja Warrior no problem! He makes me want to climb a tree, be in nature and just be. Speaking of the last part, Mowgli will go on quite the journey of growth in this film. His whole life he has had to adapt, whether it was intentional or not. But in this film, Mowgli will teach you to just be, to be you, to find yourself and find your voice – your true, raw voice.
A little shining star in the film was one of Mowgli’s pack brothers, Gray. He is the runt of the litter. Gray is a loyal little chap who is attentive to Mowgli and his Mama. Mowgli is his brother but you also see that they are buddies. Gray is fascinated by “Mowgli’s own way” even though it’s not the wolf’s way which their father, Akela, has instilled in them. Gray is often overlooked because of his size and timidness.
However, persistance is key. Gray always tried – he had focus. By the end of the movie, you see Gray still loyal as ever to his pack but stronger, not necessarily in size but in heart, you see him lead in a pack howl. You see Gray (the runt of the litter) find his voice and ALL the animals of the jungle listen to him and join as one. It was heart-warming and a moment for little Gray with a big and loyal heart.
Another fun character I have to give a nod to is Fred, the pygmy hog. Fred is simple, inquisitive and cute. You meet Fred just before this scene below when Baloo uses Mowgli’s clever “tricks” to help Baloo prepare for hibernation. (Insider note: Fred is voiced by director, Jon Favreau, who also is the voice of Mr. Norwhal in Elf!!) How about them apples?!?!
I had the pleasure of interviewing the producer, Brigham Taylor, of The Jungle Book last week. Each time I get invited to one of these opportunities, I am both nervous and excited. Mr. Taylor was very easy to talk to and started the conversation by asking us questions.
The big question for Mr. Taylor though:
Why did you change the sex of Kaa from male to female?
“We thought we should have more woman in the film… Kaa felt very fluid to us and it felt like not in any violation in terms of audience expectation.”
They also expanded Raksha’s role who has one or two lines in the 1967 movie, so they grew her role in the pack to be more abundant in this film.
I wanted to know if they always had Scarlett Johansen in mind for the role of Kaa. Mr. Taylor wasn’t sure if Scarlett was in mind when the gender was changed but he does know that Jon Favreau had her in mind to cast her. Jon Favreau has worked with Scarlett numerous times in other films such as Ironman.
They were able to get a lot of wonderful actors for voice overs because they could come to a studio a couple hours verses going to a jungle to film for 6 months on end. With that flexibility, they were able to land every one of their first choice actors for each role because of this lax schedule.
For the character development, while the actor would be in the studio recording their voice-overs, they would have a Go-Pro also recording. During each vocal recording session, the Go-Pro footage would capture the actor’s unique features such as eye color, facial movement, and body gesture. All the animators would look at this footage and incorporate what they could with staying true to each animal.
“First and foremost, they have to be true to the physiology of the animal.. but they take cues where they can, for example of the acting choices of the performers and they kind of get them in clever ways. I mean her (Scarlett’s) eyes were very specific to snakes eyes and they are not quite human but they may have found little flourishes that they could steal subtly.”
With King Louie, they had a much easier time incorporating Christopher Walken’s eyes and some of his mannerisms because the ratio of human to Gigantopithecus (AKA an ancient form of a Giant Orangutan) is so much closer than all the other animals in the film.
Aren’t King Louie’s eyes memorizing?!
The Jungle Book production and crew used some new technologies to help trick our eyes into wondering what was real and what was computer generated (CG) while watching this film. There has been advanced character animation since Jurassic Park and it has been improving since. THE JUNGLE Book incorporated some of the same features but also by employing a company to build new software for this film for CG effects.
“This new software was built so they would have the most convincing film for the viewer right down to the musculature of the animal, how that reacts in movement, all the way to the skin and fur. They also adopted new lighting techniques known as Ray Tracing Technique, which mimics and behaves like real light does. Light comes in as a ray and bounces off of things, these are things that we all take for granted… this is very difficult to recreate that by hand, so with this new software it’s easier to recreate… We hired them (the CG Company) early on so they would have time….I think that’s why it feels so real.”
I asked if the actors ever had the opportunity to ad lib while in the sound booth recording their lines. I told him how King Louie’s line of, “I got ears , my ears got ears” felt so Christopher Walken-ish. He chuckled and said yes, the actors got to improv quite a bit. He would have to go back to the record to see if that line specifically was from Mr. Walken (he actually said Chris from which I had to ask if they were on a first name basis with Mr. Walken. He laughed and said, Oh no, He is Mr. Walken)
“Every actor has the ability and Jon encourages them a take on this and a take on that…. Bill’s (Murray) over on the end of the spectrum where he get’s the intent of the scene and the perimeter and he takes off…. that’s a real gift he gives you.”
When directors, writers and producers decide to re-imagine a classic Disney film, they have to decide which original songs to use in the live-action. “It was pretty apparent that there were two songs that sit above the rest.” There’s wonderful music in the 1967 film but they weren’t building a musical live-action film and they realized they still needed to use some of the original music to make sure it felt like “The Jungle Book” and “they hope that it works out.”
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When it comes to re-creating the 1967 film, they wanted to make a lot of story shifts in this live-action film, the ending being one of them. They knew from the beginning that they would change the ending because they felt strongly that this film would be about a boy not finding his way out of the the jungle but a way into the jungle and finding his place in the jungle.
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“Kipling himself wrote these stories in chapters… and back tracked a lot in his stories too (there’s wish fulfillment there) … out of the jungle, that day will come, we just thought, not today.” Every filmmaker takes inspiration from each other to create their own choices when re telling something.
To make this live-action film there was animal research to specialize in animal limitation and animal movement. You see a tiger saunter up a cliff, they looked at everything to blend all aspects in the film.