5 Biggest Takeaways From Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’ Press Conference

By April 5, 2016

Already, Disney’s The Jungle Book is shaping up to be one of the most awe-inspiring films of the year. Having seen it this past weekend, I can say with utmost certainty that the film is not only a technically visual marvel (you must see it in 3D), but it’s also a legitimately enjoyable, heart-warming iteration of the classic story that we’re all familiar with at this point. Whether it be the casting of Bill Murray as Baloo or even the unique incorporation of some of the film’s music, it’s hard not to just see magic onscreen from beginning to end.

Recently as well, I was lucky enough to attend the film’s Los Angeles press conference as well, and hear director Jon Favreau, as well as stars Neel Sethi (Mowgli), Sir Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela), Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha), and producer Brigham Taylor speak about the film and what they loved about working on the project.

So without any further ado, here are five things from The Jungle Book press conference that you should know before you see the film…

What initially inspired Favreau to try and tell a new, updated version of the classic story now:

“A lot of it was the enthusiasm of Disney and specifically Alan Horn, who’s really connected with this film, from the Kipling stories when he was growing up and I connected very much with the animated film when I was growing up and so we had common ground of both having great affection for this property. And the question became, “If we love it so much in those other forms, why do it now?” As he pointed it out to me, he said ‘Look, you saw Life of Pi,’ he realized that the technology may have come to a point where you can actually tell the story in a different way and maybe bring some of what exists in his imagination from when he was growing up, visually onto the big screen. I was very compelled with the idea of taking what can be done in visual effects now. I was also very impressed with films like Planet of the Apes, Avatar, Life of Pi as well, and specifically what was done in Gravity. The way they filmed the principal photography as though, almost as though it were an element shoot for an effects piece. It became a big puzzle and after sleeping on that and thinking about it, I came up with a take on it. When I came back and we all discussed it, it sounded really, really cool. So 100 years ago was the book, 50 years ago was the animated film, and now 50 years later, it’s time to update the story for our generation.”

The film actually incorporates an old school Disney method of immersing the audience further into the film and its score, through a technique called Fantasound, that was originally developed for Fantasia:

“Fantasound, since it [Fantasia] was going to be a concert film, Walt had a vision to put the audience in the middle of the music and what would be required, and I think they only did it in two theatres. They put speakers all around the theatre which cost a tremendous amount of money even to this day, I think it was $10o,o00 to outfit a theatre, and they had to mic the orchestra using a lot of isolated microphones. I think 30 microphones. I don’t know the specifics, I don’t remember them, but this was essentially what the concept was. I remember when I was talking to my sound people and to my composer Jon Debny I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to explore what Fantasound would be now?”  Because it only worked in two theatres, and only for the one film. I think he thought it was something you would use in perpetuity but it was something that was abandoned rather quickly. The sound engineer said, “Well Atmos sound has that many speakers all around the theatre you use it for sound effects, there’s no reason you couldn’t use it for music.’

So I talked to John Debney about it, he’s a Disney guy he grew up on the Disney lot, he knew Walt, he hung out with the Sherman Brothers when he was a little kid, so he breathes Disney. He knows the culture and he really leapt at the opportunity and so when we were micing the orchestra, we isolated instruments when we could, and in the sound mix, Lora Hirschberg, who’s our music mixer, we tasked her in the Atmos mix with creating a Fantasound mix. So if you go to see the film certainly in Atmos, perhaps I’m not sure how 7:1 works, but certainly in Atmos, you will feel that there are instruments that move around the theatre especially isolated instruments like the flute as Mowgli’s running. So if you ever see it in a Dolby cinema, you’ll experience a version of what we were trying to channel which was Walt’s vision for this.

But Fantasound wasn’t the only Disney Easter Egg that Favreau paid homage to and included in the film either:

“This is one of dozens of little opportunities we were looking for to somehow tie back into the legacy. There are visual cues in the film that you know as time goes on and people get more familiar with it, you’ll start to notice bits of Dumbo in the film, looking at the Monstro chase in Pinocchio inspired some of the King Louie stuff, and certainly from Jungle Book, you’ll start to notice bits that are pulled from one film into the next. But to me that’s part of the fun of this. It’s really just embracing the opportunity and the emotional connection from growing up with these films and seeing how much of it we could just knead back into the dough of the film… Just for a moment like this, just for an excuse to talk about what Walt was going for and for people who are fans, who appreciate that  we’re trying to —just as the Parks change and grow, the movies should too.”

The writer and director was also keen to make sure that the actors’ performances didn’t ever dip in quality or persistence either, and wanted to capture a real emotional authenticity in the film,

“I tried to get them to perform together as much as possible. I’ve done animated voices before and it tends to degrade eventually to, ‘Okay, just say it again louder.’ Depending on how good the filmmaker is, either they use the loudest take because it has the most energy and it wakes the kids up in the audience, or they can weave together the subtlety of a performance, but it’s a lot to ask of people. I wanted this to feel like a live-action film and not an animated film, and part of the key was to get a very conversational performance. I know very much from being an actor, you rely upon your scene partner and the energy of a scene partner modulates your energy and affects it because we’re a communal species. We mirror each other, we key off each other, there are little status relationships going on, and scenes have to build and have a shape to them, and that comes from… it’s a team sport, you play it like a tennis match with whoever you’re on the camera with.”

But even with all of this new technology available at their fingertips and an impressive cast, what was the filmmaker’s biggest challenge in the making of the film

“My biggest thing was not to drop the ball for the people who love this underlying property, and knowing inherently I couldn’t just take the G-rated musical for children and make it photo-real. I knew we were going to have to deviate in some basic, inherent ways from that, and could you still preserve the soul and the charm and the feeling of the first one, while including aspects from the Kipling stories and changing it from a G-rated musical to a PG-rated adventure that would have more thrills and be more exciting and scarier at times than the original, but also maintain the heart and humor and the music too. This is something that belonged to the whole culture before we decided to update it and so it’s been a very exciting couple of days as people are seeing it for the first time.”

The Jungle Book is set to hit theatres everywhere on April 15th.

Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable