Jungle Book: Interview with Director Jon Favreau

The Jungle Book is  new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli, a man-cub raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan, 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 journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera, and the free-spirited bear Baloo.

the_jungle_book_posterAlong the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa, a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie, who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories, The Jungle Book is inspired by Disney’s classic animated film. “We embrace the mythic qualities of Kipling in the more intense tonal aspects of the film,” says director Jon Favreau, “but we left room for what we remember from the 1967 film, and sought to maintain those charming Disneyesque aspects.”

Filmmakers employed innovtive 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.

“‘The Jungle Book’ is a universal coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to,” says producer Brigham Taylor. “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.”

the_jungle_book_1Favreau holds that “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?’”

The all-star cast includes Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of mother wolf Raksha. Scarlett Johansson gives life to Kaa, Giancarlo Esposito provides the voice of alpha-male wolf Akela, and Christopher Walken lends his iconic voice to King Louie.

Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as the film’s only human character, Mowgli. Sethi, 12, was selected from thousands of hopefuls who auditioned as part of an extensive worldwide search.

Favreau directs “The Jungle Book” from a screenplay by Justin Marks (“Top Gun 2,” TV’s “Rewind”) that was based on the books by Rudyard Kipling.

The producers are Favreau and Taylor (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Tomorrowland”). Peter Tobyansen (“Alice in Wonderland”), Molly Allen (“Chef”) and Karen Gilchrist (“Chef”) executive produce.

Bill Pope (“The Matrix,” “Spider-Man 2”) is director of photography, Christopher Glass (“Arthur Newman”) serves as the production designer, Mark Livolsi (“Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Blind Side”) is editor, and Laura Jean Shannon (“Chef,” “Iron Man,” “Elf”) is costume designer.

the_jungle_book_1The teams of artists tapped to bring India’s jungle and animals to life were headed by Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Rob Legato (“Avatar,” “Hugo,” “Titanic,” “Apollo 13”), Moving Picture Company’s visual effects supervisor Adam Valdez (“Maleficent,” “World War Z,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) and WETA’s visual effects supervisor Dan Lemmon (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”). The visual effects producer is Joyce Cox (“The Great Gatsby,” “Men in Black 3”) and the film’s animation supervisor is Oscar® winner Andrew R. Jones (“Avatar,” World War Z,” and “I, Robot”).

With a score composed by Emmy winner and Oscar-, BAFTA- and Annie Award-nominee John Debney (“Elf,” “Iron Man 2”), “The Jungle Book” opens in theaters on 3D on April 15, 2016.

Beloved Story of Man-Cub Mowgli and the New Generation

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 follow Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero with a thousand faces’ view of mythic storytelling,” says director Jon Favreau. “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 very fertile soil.”

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.

“The bond between Mowgli and Baloo made a very strong impression on me as a kid,” says Favreau. “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.

“There was a fun quality to Disney’s classic animated version of ‘The Jungle Book,’” continues Favreau. “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.”

Like Favreau, producer Brigham Taylor’s gateway into the characters and story was his childhood exposure to the animated classic. “Long before I even knew about the original Kipling works, I saw the Disney animated version. Like most kids, I was deeply impressed by the amazing characters, the wish fulfillment of a kid living in the jungle among the animals. Now, ‘The Jungle Book’ is an elemental and universal story, and its time has come in terms of the technology that we can use for the very first time to tell it in the way that Kipling actually imagined: a real kid in a real jungle lives with actual animals that just happen to be able to talk to him.”

Filmmakers 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. “We’re loyal to the animated film’s characters,” says Taylor. “And in other ways, we’ve taken on some of the realism and tone in Kipling’s stories. We tend to lean towards the characters that are familiar to us as we experienced them in the animated film, but we do mix and match to serve this version of the story.”

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.”

“It’s a coming-of-age story about a kid who is figuring out his place in the world,” adds Taylor. “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 brings it all to the table.”

According to Favreau, it’s that balance that appeals to viewers of all ages. “As a parent, I’m so grateful when there’s a film that’s appropriate for my kids to 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,” continues the director. “If you’re a kid seeing ‘The Jungle Book’ for the first time, you might forget to eat your popcorn, because it’s going to be a really fun ride.”