The Jungle Book set visit

On December 11th, 2014, I visited a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles where director Jon Favreau was shooting his adaptation of The Jungle Book. As you may have noticed, Disney has begun to do a big rollout of the film, and we’ve been given the go-ahead to share something from our set visit. What I saw on set was amazing, but the studio has asked us not to talk about the technological process behind the film’s creation at this time (that will come later). So instead I present to you some of the methodology behind the adaptation.

I’ve always been a fan of Jon Favreau‘s work for the long haul, from his performances as an actor, to his more indie features like Made and Chef, and of course his larger, more accessible films like Elf and Iron Man. But when it was announced that Favreau was going to direct an adaptation of The Jungle Book, I was a little confused. It didn’t seem to fit in with his tastes. So I was interested to find out: Why did Jon Favreau want to make The Jungle Book? His answer is rooted in the power and emotion of mythic storytelling, and, among other things, Star Wars.

The Jungle Book Set Visit #1

The Jungle Book

Why did Jon Favreau want to direct The Jungle Book? The filmmaker explained that he was pulled in by the power of mythic stories:

Ultimately when you make a movie, you want them to feel things. You don’t just want to wow them with spectacle. I think you have to deliver spectacle because that seems to be the only unifying that that everyone around the world likes, to go on a big ride and be immersed. But for me as a filmmaker, if you’re not going back to the old myths and telling them in a new way, you’re not interesting, you’re not doing the type of storytelling that I enjoy spending years of my life doing.

Favreau told me that he remembered seeing Star Wars for the first time with his parents, and even though the film employed all kinds of new technology, Jon’s parents were instantly invested. And while Favreau’s story gives us insight into the mythic storytelling that compels him, it also gives us an understanding of why he wants to make this film like this with fantastic new technology.

They used all this new technology but the story was very familiar to my parents, to my grandparents — they had seen stories like that before. But because of all the motion-control space ships and the costumes, it wowed me but really the myths — Lucas will say it, “The Power of Myth,” the interview with [Joseph] Campbell, these are all old stories, and there are none more established and rooted in myth and history than [Rudyard] Kipling’s Jungle Book. And then you also have the Disney version that I grew up with and was very important to me.

As for how his film will be different from the animated Disney musical adaptation, Favreau gives us a few hints:

A lot of this is mixing those two and adding greater adventure and peril and a greater edge and sense of danger than the musical one had, while retaining the elements that I would want to see, and want to take my kid to see.

The Jungle Book

But how is The Jungle Book a Jon Favreau movie? This is a question I really wanted an answer to, because I feel like Favreau has a very unique style and sensibility. I asked him as we were touring the set and the filmmaker didn’t have an immediate answer — he had to think about it and consider the question as we moved off one of the stages.

I tend to like movies that make me feel something. I love the very pure myths, and there always seems to be a certain type of emotion. I don’t know if… it’s not like I intend it, but here’s a kid without a family who’s really persevering and going up against such hardships and such enduring loss, but still, you know, unflagging and fighting hard. And if you look at… my movies have been so different in genre, but I think you can figure out which are mine and it comes from the type of humor.

The Jungle Book set visit

Favreau went on to explain the difference between making a movie with humor and making a comedy film, namely that if you are making a a movie with humor (as opposed to a comedy film), “if the humor doesn’t hit you over the head nobody gives you a note that the joke’s not working.”

That was the lesson in Iron Man, you know. On Elf there were notes about every joke, on Iron Man nobody gave me any notes on jokes but everybody would give me notes about every action sequence. On Elf nobody gave me any notes on the action sequences. So it’s like, if you want to do comedy, you’re better off doing an action movie. Nobody to give you a hard time! And if you get a laugh it’s a bonus. In a comedy if you’re not getting laughs every ten seconds, you’re failing. So I think some of the humor’s coming through and of course, the casting. Chris Walken and Bill Murray and just making those guys come to life and working with them over and over again, it’s a real dream come true, and to use all these toys. That’s the nice part about the big ones. Whatever technology has to offer you have access to and how could you best tell a story with those tools.

As for the amazing kind of tools and toys that Favreau used to create his Jungle Book… I will explore those at a later time. But just think, the only thing real in the image below is the boy and the ground he is standing on.

The Jungle Book

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The Jungle Book opens April 15.

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