Last week, Disney hosted a junket for The Jungle Book, where the press were invited to ask questions of director Jon Favreau, producer Brigham Taylor, and a select few cast members. In the hourlong Q&A it became clear that the imminent success of The Jungle Book all came down to director Favreau.
Based off Rudyard Kipling's collection of stories and the 1967 animated classic of the same title, Disney knew it would have to place the film in the hands of a visionary who could be trusted to take a beloved story and better acclimatize it to suit contemporary audiences.
According to producer Brigham Taylor, the bulk of his preproduction job came down to selecting the perfect director:
"The biggest job I had was to find the right filmmaker. ... We needed someone who had the warmth and humanity to inject it with the charm and with the thematic quality you know you need. ... In fact, to portray it the way Kipling had imagined it, had envisioned it, perhaps even for the first time, because he was envisioning a live-action world with a child living amongst these animals — we needed someone who could do all that, and when you looked at the list, it whittled down to one guy."
From the sounds of it, Favreau was interested in the project from the get-go. Despite the challenges of a live-action reboot, his personal attachment to The Jungle Book and eagerness to usher a new generation of fans into the Disney fandom was enough to pique his interests:
"A lot of it was the enthusiasm of Disney and, specifically, [Walt Disney Studios chairman] Alan Horn who's really connected with this film, with the story from the Kipling stories from 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 the other forms why do it now?
"A hundred 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."
From there, it was Favreau's involvement in the film that ended up becoming a linchpin in assembling an all-star cast and crew. The impressive ensemble includes the likes of Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and Lupita Nyong'o.
At the junket, Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley reaffirmed that his faith in Favreau was enough to convince him to join the cast:
“I think the captain in charge of the project really brings his or her taste to the project, and I knew Jon well enough, and I’m fond of him to know his taste in the project and his perception of humanity and childhood and storytelling completely concur with mine, so it was a joy to work on the project with that beautiful mind of his.”
When it comes to reboots and adaptations, it's a very thin line between paying homage and feeling stale. When one journalist asked Favreau about his biggest concerns during production and now facing the release, his answer was simple: He didn't want to disappoint people.
"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 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 the humor and the music, too? This is something that belonged to the whole culture before we decided to update it."
Having seen the film, I can say with confidence that Favreau was able to strike a balance between modern technology and childhood nostalgia that will satisfy and delight audiences of all ages.
Disney's adaptation of The Jungle Book finally hits the big screen on Friday, and after years of planning and anxiety from the studio and Favreau, the world will soon know if their bold endeavor will pay off. Considering he's already in talks to direct the sequel, I'd say Favreau and The Jungle Book are a match made in Disney heaven.
Disney's live-action 'The Jungle Book' premieres tomorrow, April 15.