The jungle came to Hollywood for the world premiere of Disney’s “The Jungle Book” Monday night at Hollywood’s historic El Capitan Theatre.
The film’s launch brought out stars Lupita Nyong’o, Ben Kingsley, Neel Sethi and Giancarlo Esposito, and director Jon Favreau, among others. The premiere fell on the same day that it was announced COO Thomas Staggs would step down at Disney. Disney CEO Bob Iger was at the premiere, but declined to discuss Staggs’ departure at length.
“Jon Favreau’s vision to bring this jungle to life in a way that we can feel immersed in it and that we can feel the realness and the danger this boy is in, and the real risks the animals take to keep him safe raise the stakes in this film in a way that I think is important for us to experience,” said Nyong’o, who voices Raksha. “I was proud to play a mother, a protector, who had chosen a son that was nothing like her and fought for him no matter what.”
While the majority of the cast play CGI animated animals, their distinct voices and presences are still felt. Sethi’s character (Mowgli) — one of only two humans in the film — blends effortlessly with the animals and the actors bring a certain realness to their characters.
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“I spent a little time on my hands and knees running around my living room to feel what would that voice be if I was on all fours,” said Esposito, describing his preparation for Akela. “I start with a whisper. For a wolf, I wanted to be fierce and it eventually got there. But, I don’t deal with volume. I deal with nuance and then the words sort of give me the nature of the animal.”
Kingsley said he envisioned his character to be a military man.
“I decided that my character was Colonel Bagheera and that he’s military,” added Kingsley. “I used a very precise voice, a voice that could not be misunderstood, not ambiguous, direct but also has underlying notes of tenderness and affection.”
The film holds on to classic songs like “The Bare Necessities,” but, unlike the 1967 original, the new spin on “The Jungle Book” has a more dramatic feel. Favreau combined elements from the Rudyard Kipling classic with the animated film that shifted the movie’s tone from a G-rated kid’s musical to a PG-rated adventure film.
“I think that a film of real quality demanded that the story become a bit more robust in its action sequences,” said Favreau. “I think it allows for it to appeal to a broader age range than might be attracted to something that’s more younger skewing like the original.”
The new rendition is filled with CGI, which made it possible for the film to be shot in a 12-story downtown Los Angeles building. Favreau said, “It demanded a lot of technical acumen.”
“I relied upon my visual effect supervisors and the artists that work with me to guide me through,” said Favreau. “Over the three years, I’ve worked on this and they helped me understand it. Now, at the end of this project, I feel very comfortable with this new technology and look forward to seeing how it could be applied to other stories.”
“The Jungle Book” swings into theaters everywhere April 15.