Film Heads Up: DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK (out 15 April 2016)
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- Published on Saturday, 27 February 2016 13:05
- Last Updated on 23 March 2016
- Monica Costa
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Everyone in my age group will certainly remember the original Disney animation The Jungle Book. Now a brilliant filmmaker such as Jon Favreau (“Chef,” “Iron Man,” “Elf”) armed with cutting edge technology will bring that wonderful story back to life in a brand new version. The wild adventure of DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK swings into cinemas in 3D on 15th April 2016 and I cannot wait to see it finished after having had a sneaky preview at a recent presentation by Favreau in person. Read my insightful piece to find out what makes this film innovative.
This new version of the classic Disney’s classic animated film, The Jungle Book based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories, is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).
Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johannsson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire. The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela. The Jungle Book seamlessly blends live-action with photorealistic CGI animals and environments, using up-to-the-minute technology and storytelling techniques to immerse audiences in an enchanting and lush world.
What’s new in JON FAVREAU’s version of DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK
We know Jon Favreau best for his acting and filmmaking roles in Friends, Iron Man and Chef but never linked to a Disney animation. But I can reassure you that he is just as great. I had the honour of attending his presentation about this new venture and I was thrilled.
Here is what Favreau had to say in his own words about his modern take on the classic Jungle book.
“Story is king. Films have to offer an emotional experience for the audience. The spectacle won’t mean anything if they’re not engaged emotionally with the characters. Every story needs humanity, emotion and character development, as well as humor—presented in a way that doesn’t betray the stakes of the film.
There are white-knuckle moments in the movie when you wonder, ‘what’s going to happen to this kid’?
There was a fun quality to Disney’s classic animated version of The Jungle Book. I loved the music and I remember having vivid dreams about the characters. The scenes that made a big visual impression on me—that I am carrying over to this version of film—are images of Mowgli going down the river on the belly of Baloo, the python Kaa with its hypnotic eyes, and the majesty of those elephants marching by.
Kipling’s stories follow Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero with a thousand faces’ view of mythic storytelling. You have the rise of the hero—a young boy coming of age in the jungle in this environment with all of these archetypal characters. As a filmmaker I find this as very fertile soil.
The bond between Mowgli and Baloo made a very strong impression on me as a kid. It reminded me of my own relationship with my grandfather, who was a big part of my life. I really like that Mowgli is rambunctious, always getting into trouble. He isn’t the standard well-behaved kid, but a bit precocious—a ‘Dennis the Menace’ type. He isn’t intimidated by these big wild animals, in fact, he’s completely at home among them. He’s a tough kid but also very vulnerable emotionally, especially with Baloo.
We embrace the mythic qualities of Kipling in the more intense tonal aspects of the film, but we left room for what we remember from the ’67 film, and sought to maintain those charming Disneyesque aspects.
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. 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 a more story stakes. We play with a tone that has a lot more jeopardy and where survival isn’t necessarily a given.
That balance appeals to viewers of all ages. As a parent, I’m so grateful when there’s a film that’s appropriate for my kids see but doesn’t talk down to them. Kids can keep up with sophisticated storytelling. Walt’s dream was always to pull families together but not necessarily in the most obvious or predictable way.
In our version, if you’re a Disney fan, you’ll notice attention to detail that honors the film’s legacy. If you’re a kid seeing ‘The Jungle Book’ for the first time, you might forget to eat your popcorn it’s going to be a really fun ride.
When I think about Disney’s legacy, I relate to Walt’s original dream. Walt Disney’s work has influenced my work. He was considered high-tech for the time. He was the first person who locked soundtrack with picture, so the characters were perfectly choreographed to the musical score—something that absolutely blew people’s minds. Disney was on the cutting edge of technology.
To honor Disney’s dedication to technology, we explored the best way to immerse audiences in the world we imagined in our version of the story. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we create a world? How can we use this technology, these storytelling tools to their fullest potential?’ Ideally, we wanted the audience to forget that it’s technology—they’ll just get transported.
We take the best of the photo-real animation process, the best motion-capture techniques and the best of live-action shooting and combine these three things in a way that that nobody’s done before. We discovered that we could use cutting-edge technology to create something that appears completely realistic and organic to the audience.
If you want believability, the physics must be real. Mowgli and the designs are executed in a real way, but we took a tremendous amount of liberty when we made the jungle. Not unlike Disneyland, we realized that we could make the animals a little bigger than life to help accentuate how vulnerable this little boy feels in the jungle. Every corner of the screen is filled with tremendous detail. We have this beautiful, lush jungle canopy and you have the art direction and the cinematography that’s evocative of the old multi-plane camerawork from the animated films.
We employed cutting-edge CGI to capture the animal’s performances. Each animal has a unique emotional language. A tiger expresses anger much differently than a wolf or a bear would.
In lieu of matching CG environments to an actual jungle, we decided to build an almost entirely digital jungle. We found we were able to exaggerate and enhance certain elements like scale. We can take foliage from India’s jungles and heighten certain colors. But it’s all rooted in reality.
The process called for careful planning and extensive pre-visualization work, particularly considering that the film’s human character, Mowgli, touches and interacts with the environment he’s in. Designers built a practical set—creating only what was needed for a particular shot—that was later blended with the CG environment. We could look at the monitor and see the virtual set we’d already built and how it married perfectly into that environment. We could get the full picture when we looked at the monitor with the Simulcam in it. We could move the camera and see off into the distance—we could see every mountain and tree that was supposed to be there.
Every choice was made with the audience in mind. The audience has to be taken on a ride. They want thrills, adventure, excitement, laughs. And they want emotion. I tried to make a movie that I’d want to see.
The technology used
Filmmakers employed up-to-the-minute technology to tell the story in a contemporary and immersive way, blending live-action performances with stunning CG environments and extraordinary photo-real animal characters that artists stylized to elevate the storytelling. Producer Brigham Taylor said: “The Jungle Book is a universal coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to. Walt told the story through traditional cell animation and now we have the technology to actually bring these characters to life, make them photo-real and put a real kid into the environment in a seamless, believable way. The opportunity to be able to show that with today’s technology was irresistible.”
Filmmakers assembled a team of experts with movies like “Life of Pi,” “Gravity” and “Avatar” under their belts. Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato boarded the project very early on to design a workflow, a system and VFX pipeline, employing the very latest iteration of movie magic, which would allow his director the freedom to push the limits of what’s possible in filmmaking. “It’s a photo-real film grounded in the real world,” says Legato. “There’s something very interesting about that.”
Legato’s VFX team collaborated with Andy Jones’ animation team, kicking off the effort with extensive research. “Footage of animals in the wild, in the proper sunlight is our basis and foundation for reality,” says Jones. “Photographic real references of animals are our backbone and starting point. We then slightly tweaked some of the renderings of the animals based on the voice actors’ performances, but never to the point of crossing the line into becoming cartoony.”
“The audience will feel the grandeur of the Indian jungle,” adds Legato. “They’ll experience this exotic land. That’s part of the fun of going to the movies—seeing a place you’ve never seen before. Living it. Walking through it.”
Newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the only human character in the film
Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as the film’s only human character, Mowgli. Sethi, who’s 11 now, was selected from thousands of hopefuls who auditioned as part of an extensive worldwide search. The all-star cast also includes Bill Murray (“Lost in Translation”) as the voice of Baloo, Ben Kingsley (“Learning to Drive,” “The Walk”) as Bagheera, Idris Elba (“Star Trek Beyond”) as Shere Kahn, and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) as the voice of mother wolf Raksha. Scarlett Johansson (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”) gives life to Kaa, Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) provides the voice of alpha male wolf Akela, and Christopher Walken (“The Deer Hunter”) lends his iconic voice to King Louie.
The British legacy of Kipling
The characters and stories of “The Jungle Book” have reached people from all parts of the world. Bombay-born English writer Rudyard Kipling channeled his love of India in 1894’s “The Jungle Book,” following with “The Second Jungle Book” in 1895. Though considered children’s books, the stories—with their lush landscapes and talking animals—sparked interest in young and old alike—often introducing readers to India for the first time. Kipling, who wrote the stories while starting a family in Vermont, published additional books and short-story collections, and ultimately became the highest-paid writer in the world at age 32. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
Kipling’s stories have been adapted several times in the 12 decades that followed their publication. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated movie, “The Jungle Book,” was overhauled when Walt Disney felt that early drafts, which retained the darker tone of Kipling’s stories, were too serious. Released on Oct. 18, 1967, a year after Disney’s death, the film became a beloved classic. With iconic songs like Terry Gilkyson’s “The Bare Necessities” and the Sherman Brothers’ “I Wanna Be Like You,” the film’s soundtrack still inspires instantaneous humming and toe-tapping today. Disney’s “The Jungle Book” was released theatrically two more times, as well as in-home video, DVD and Blu-ray releases, earning fans across generations and rooting Mowgli and his animal friends and foes in hearts around the world.
Filmmakers working on DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK didn’t set out to create a beat-by-beat literal remake of the animated film, nor a total return to Kipling’s 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 gravitas and mythology inherent in Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. They’re loyal to the animated film’s characters and in other ways they’ve taken on some of the realism and tone in Kipling’s stories.
DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK is a coming-of-age story about a kid who is figuring out his place in the world. The adventure is real, the stakes are high, but at the same time, the film is warm and humane. It’s hard to find that combination, but Jon Favreau brings it all to the table.
I am certainly looking forward to seeing it all on the big screen. If you London Mums and kids are as keen as we are and want to keep updated on DISNEY’S JUNGLE BOOK through social media here are useful links:
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums