Last week the Walt Disney Pictures live-action remake of The Jungle Book was released on DVD. I had been waiting rather anxiously for this movie to be released on DVD, because, as the father of a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, I don’t make it out to the theaters very often. So, I quickly made my way to our area Redbox and rented the Bluray DVD version of The Jungle Book. Several things resonated with me about this movie. I could sit here and write up a movie review, but I’m much more interested in sharing some of the interesting facts and insight behind the movie that can only be found on the DVD.
The bonus features on the DVD alone are worth at least renting it from your local Redbox, but the one that provided the most content and interesting facts about the movie is called “The Jungle Book: Reimagined”. This is a lengthy segment that takes you behind the scenes of, not only the making of the movie, but the discussions that took place about how to do the movie from the very beginning of the process.
Jon Favreau is the director and producer of this film. Of course, Jon’s most recognizable contribution to films is probably his breakout role in the movie “Swingers”, but he has had a much greater impact behind the scenes producing and directing such blockbuster films as “Elf” and the “Iron Man” trilogy. Jon takes us behind the scenes in “The Jungle Book: Reimagined”, and it is here that he makes one of the first interesting observations. He references a scene where Mowgli and Akila say “goodbye”. In the scene, through special effects and computer graphics, they were able to make it rain. He mentioned how classic Disney animated films often used the element of rain for saddening scenes. For example, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, when the dwarfs are all gathered around Snow White and they think she is dead, the forest animals are watching from outside in the middle of a downpour. It’s really an element that just brings out the emotion of the scene that all the more. It’s also an element that, Favreau says, would have been a luxury to be able to afford to do without CG. The addition of computer graphics allowed them to easily add rain to the scene without a significant amount of additional cost.
Another interesting fact has to do with the ending credits. As an homage to the original Jungle Book, they ended this version the same way the original began – with a shot of the exact book used in the original animated feature on a blue cloth background. In fact, they had to get permission to use the original book, still housed at the Walt Disney Studios Archives, using special precautions including an authorized handler using white gloves. In order to make the book appear to “dance” or move along to the music used in the ending credits, they actually drilled holes underneath the table the book sat on and had someone poke at it from underneath.
Finally, the very beginning of the film gives a nod to the original in several different ways. First, the Disney intro with the castle logo was redone and animated to resemble the animation and technology available at the time the original Jungle Book was made (1967). Secondly, Jon admired the way Disney used the multiplane camera to show depth and actually travel through the scenery in the introduction of movies like “Bambi” and the original “Jungle Book”. So, immediately after the castle logo introduction, the camera pans out and backs away into and through the live-action jungle scenery. Finally, as the opening sequence continues, you immediately hear the score that was played during the intro of the original Jungle Book animated film.
These things aren’t really what I would call “Easter eggs”. The Jungle Book is packed with those as well, but these are more interesting things that were done to capture the spirit, emotion, and feeling of the Disney animated classic from 1967. Overall, I was pleased with the movie and quite enjoyed the all-star cast and more action-packed, dramatic tone of the film. But, above all of that, I was thrilled with how much care was taken to retell this story in a way that doesn’t stray from the original film, nor does it try to change “the recipe”, so to speak, of the original. This, I believe, was about as good as you could hope for a live-action remake of “The Jungle Book”, and it’s largely thanks to the fact that the filmmakers focused on retelling the classic story in a modern way, while keeping their feet firmly planted in the original soil.