More female roles, fewer songs in new Jungle Book

NEW CHAPTER: Director Favreau felt Disney's 1967 version was "a little gender biased". For his live-action remake, he roped in Johansson to play the evil snake Kaa and Oscar winner Nyong'o for an upgraded role of she-wolf Raksha.


    Apr 07, 2016

    More female roles, fewer songs in new Jungle Book

    ONE of the best-loved animated films of all time, The Jungle Book boasted iconic songs and a cast that ensured it would be revered as a milestone in Hollywood history.

    But for all its virtues, Disney's 1967 version of Rudyard Kipling's tale of an orphan raised by wolves lacked the one thing you would be sure to find in the jungle - the female of the species.

    "I thought it was a little gender biased. I have two daughters, and the world is different now," says Jon Favreau, who directs the big-budget, live-action remake which opens in Singapore today.

    The veteran director set about putting things right by bringing on board Tinseltown A-lister and regular collaborator Scarlett Johansson to give villainous, and very male, snake Kaa the feminine touch.

    "I liked the character of this mother figure who is welcoming and also menacing. I thought that there was something interesting psychologically about that," Favreau told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

    The 49-year-old, who directed the first two Iron Man movies and was an executive producer on the Avengers movies, also hired Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong'o to upgrade the role of she-wolf Raksha, who has a bit part in the 1967 film.

    The 3D remake of The Jungle Book employs photorealistic CGI in perhaps the most visually stunning yet of Disney's growing stable of animation-to-live-action remakes, which include box-office smashes Maleficent, Cinderella and Alice In Wonderland.

    It stars American newcomer Neel Sethi, 12, as Mowgli, the man-cub forced to abandon his jungle home for a journey of self-discovery, guided by stern panther Bagheera and free-spirited bear Baloo.

    Favreau plucked the boy from around 2,000 children who auditioned to play Mow-gli.

    Sethi, whose scenes of him sprinting through the forest and swinging from vines required the athleticism of a gymnast, was studying for his black belt in taekwondo at the time.

    "I'd never thought about acting before. I was in a dance class and the teacher heard about the role and said I'd be really good for it," Sethi told AFP.

    "So I auditioned. I went to LA and two weeks later, we started filming."

    The young debutant and his female co-stars are joined by a glittering male cast featuring Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba and Bill Murray, who is famously selective about the roles he takes.

    "The hardest part of the movie was trying to get Bill Murray on the phone for the first time," said Favreau, who cast the 65-year-old comic actor in the role of Baloo the bear.

    "I sent letters, I sent artwork. I'd done it on other movies, I'd reached out to him before, and never heard from him.

    "So when I got the call back from him, that's when my whole world lit up."

    Award-winning composer John Debney, whose father Louis was used by Walt Disney in the mid-1930s, provides a score reminiscent of the 1967 film but, unlike the original, the new version is not a musical.

    There are snippets of the classic songs from the 1967 film, such as Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You.

    But fans will have to wait for the closing credits for a full-on singalong.

    Favreau said he reined in the musical numbers because he felt that a more flamboyant approach would have undermined the sense of danger in his film, which is much more adult in tone than the original version.

    "You want to make a movie that's appealing to all audiences and around the world, and I think the original was more of a children's movie," he told AFP.

    "Although people remember it fondly, if we had done a live-action version of it, I think it would have felt a little redundant."