A universal coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to
The Jungle Book returns to the big screen in magical, larger-than-live, live-action epic adventure that showcases the art of animation, storytelling and filmmaking, blending live-action performances with stunning CG environments and extraordinary photo-real animal characters.
This is a film the world has been waiting for and it exceeds expectations, giving fervent fans more than they could ever have wished for, and newcomers an introduction that will lead to explorations of its rich history and the animated classics on DVD and Blu-Ray, earning fans across generations and rooting Mowgli and his animal friends and foes in hearts around the world.
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, and has been reworked for the new version.
“When I think about Disney’s legacy, I relate to Walt’s original dream,” says director Jon Favreau. “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.”
Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Chef) directed The Jungle Book from a screenplay by Justin Marks (Top Gun 2, TV’s Rewind) that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and was inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, with an approach all its own. It was the last film that Walt Disney oversaw. He passed away in 1966, the year before the film’s release.
“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 ’67 film, and sought to maintain those charming Disneyesque aspects.”
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.
The team at Moving Picture Company (MPC) were responsible for animating more than 70 species, crafting 100 million leaves and simulating earth, fire and water. A team of more than 800 computer graphics artists spent more than a year on the project.
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 award-winning 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).
The Jungle Book is an unforgetable 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 captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera, and the free-spirited bear Baloo. Along 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.
“‘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.”
According to Favreau, story is king. “I think films have to offer an emotional experience for the audience,” says the director. “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?’”
Bombay-born, English writer Rudyard 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 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.
An elemental and universal story
“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.”
“Mowgli is a character who wants to fit in,” says Favreau. “He feels alienated. He’s an outsider. A vulnerable little kid, like the ugly duckling in a pack of wolves. Each year the wolf cubs grow and mature faster than him and eventually they get to join the wolf council. He’s left behind like that kid in school who gets left behind every year. Although he’s a plucky, rambunctious kid with a lot of confidence, his life isn’t easy.”
Mowgli finds himself lost and confused when he’s asked to leave the only home he’s ever known. But he’s not completely alone. In fact, he’s guided by two father figures who contribute opposing views. “Mowgli’s a very loving, accepting character,” says Taylor. “He accepts Baloo and Bagheera as they are but ultimately he has to synthesize what he’s learned from both. Baloo is the character that gives Mowgli the freedom to be who he is and express the talents that he has. Bagheera understands the importance of community, social structure, discipline and working together. By the end of the story, Mowgli is able to borrow a bit from both and he makes it work for him in a way that neither one of them necessarily could see from the beginning.”
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 summon incredible imagination skills in order to visualize the other elements in each scene.
Bagheera is a sleek and stunning panther who rescued Mowgli when he was abandoned in the jungle as an infant. The effort bonded the big cat to the man-cub—indeed, Bagheera has a bit of a soft spot for the boy. As Mowgli’s mentor, Bagheera guides him to faithfully follow the laws of the jungle. And when it comes time for Mowgli to leave his jungle home, Bagheera feels it’s his duty to help the man-cub depart with dignity.
Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley brings his noble voice to Bagheera. “He just brought this elegance and refinement to the character, yet with great firmness,” says Favreau. “He’s an interesting dude with crazy range.”
Kingsley grew up with the source material. “Rudyard Kipling’s stories of Mowgli’s adventures with these extraordinary, beautifully defined characters introduce many around the world to the Indian subcontinent and its culture,” he says.
The actor was also a fan of the animated film based on Kipling’s stories. “I loved the 1967 Disney version,” he says. “I loved the characters, the music.”
At its core, says Kingsley, “The Jungle Book” is about one’s search for family. “There are many wonderful stories that are based on the struggle of an orphan to find a family—to create a family around him, which is a very poignant part of Jon Favreau’s version of the film. It will have its beautiful, thrilling, exciting, joyous moments of celebration. But must also quite rightly have its darker moments, because we’re dealing with a very isolated child who triumphs over enormous odds.”
Raksha, a loving and fiercely protective mother wolf, cares deeply for all of her pups—including man-cub Mowgli, whom she adopts as one of her own when he’s abandoned in the jungle as an infant. Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) was called on to help bring Raksha to life.
Baloo is a free-spirited bear who meets Mowgli after the man-cub has been banished from the jungle. His bohemian style rubs off on the man-cub, propelling his introspection. “Baloo is a huge bear, bigger than life,” says Favreau. “He’s that teacher that you have in high school that encourages you to read the books that maybe you weren’t allowed to read, and opens your eyes to what the world is really all about. He’s a subversive thinker. He is not a guy who exactly fits into jungle society. He plays by his own rules and he encourages Mowgli to do the same.”
Bill Murray was able to preserve those qualities while still bringing his iconic voice to the role.”
Bengal tiger Shere Khan bears the scars of Man, which fuel his intense hatred of humans. Powerful and menacing, the fearsome tiger makes no secret of his feelings about man-cub Mowgli and his presence in the jungle. Shere Khan’s mission, above all else, is to ensure Mowgli—and the fire he knows Man wields—pose no future threat. Deep down, Shere Khan seeks revenge upon Man, and it’s Mowgli who will pay the price.
Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba was tapped to bring the tiger to life.
King Louie rules over the Bandar-log, a colony of wild and wily monkeys. His stature and prowess make him a formidable force, but he has one great desire: he desperately wants to behold the secret of Man’s deadly “red flower”—fire. The massive ape is convinced that Mowgli, who’s a man-cub after all, possesses the information he seeks, and King Louie slyly employs his smooth-talking ways in an attempt to coerce Mowgli to give it up.Oscar®-winning actor Christopher Walken lends his iconic voice to King Louie.
“Anyone who controls the red flower can control the jungle,” says Favreau. “It’s a magical destructive force.”
If Mowgli can’t give King Louie what he wants, says the director, the ape is likely to reveal his true colors.