The Jungle Book - Actor Ben Kingsley and director Jon Favreau
The Jungle Book - Actor Ben Kingsley and director Jon Favreau took part in "Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios" presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim, Calif ©2016 Disney, photo by Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images

Trust me, you’ve never seen The Jungle Book like this! Director Jon Favreau and actor Sir Ben Kingsley tell here about the making of a new classic.

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) has taken Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and has employed up-to-the-minute technology to tell the tale in an immersive way, blending live action, stunning CG environments and astonishing photo-real animal characters.

Man-cub Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), who was raised by a family of wolves, led by Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), and only knows the jungle, is urged to leave his home when Shere Khan the tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) threatens to kill him and his animal family.

Mowgli embarks on a journey to the man village, guided by his panther-mentor Bagheera (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley), where he meets such diverse characters as Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray) and King Louie the giant orangutan (voiced by Christopher Walken).

The film opens on April 15th 2016.

Jungle Book - Director Jon Favreau
Jungle Book – Director Jon Favreau at The Walt Disney Studios presentation in Anaheim, Calif ©2016 Disney, photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Jon, why this movie at this time?

Jon: A lot of it was the enthusiasm of Disney and specifically Alan Horn (Chairman of Walt Disney Studios), who really connected with the Kipling stories when he was growing up, and I connected very much with the animated film when I was growing up.

So we had common ground of both having great affection for this property.

The question became, if we love it so much in those other forms why do it now? And as he pointed out to me, when he saw Life of Pi he realized that the technology may have come to a point where you can actually tell this story in a different way.

Maybe bring some of what existed in his imagination when he was growing up visually onto the big screen.

I was very compelled with the idea of taking what can be done in visual effects now. I was also very impressed with films like Planet of the Apes, Avatar, Life of Pi and specifically what was done in Gravity, the way that they filmed the principle photography almost as though it was an element shoot for an effects piece.

A hundred years ago was the book, fifty years ago was the animated film, and now fifty years later it’s time to update this story for our generation.

Jungle Book - Ben Kingsley
Jungle Book – Ben Kingsley, who lends his voice to Bagheera ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ©2016 Disney, photo by Sarah Dunn

How did Jon convince you to come on board?

Sir Ben: Jon sat next to me at a party with his benign smile, and invited me to play Bagheera, and I think I said yes before you got to end of the sentence.

Jon: We had met on the set of Iron Man 3 and I went from being completely star struck to being impress until finally just feeling a lot of affection for him.

Sir Ben is an incredibly generous, warm, wonderful storyteller and person, and being an actor (in Iron Man 3) I got some hold days with him that I was not used to having, and we spent some time together in Miami.

Sir Ben: I think the captain in charge of the project brings his or her taste to the project, and I knew Jon well enough and am fond enough of him to know that his taste and judgment, and his perception of humanity, childhood and storytelling completely concur with mine, so it was a joy to join this beautiful project of his.

Jungle Book - Bagheera, Baloo, Neel Sethi and Raksha
The Jungle Book – Bagheera, Baloo, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and Raksha ©2016 Disney, photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Did the actors doing the voices work with Neel?

Jon: I tried to get them to perform as much as I could together, because I’ve done animated voices before and it tends to degrade eventually to, ‘Okay, just say it again louder.’

Depending on how good the filmmaker is, even they usually use the loudest take because it has the most energy and it wakes the kids up in the audience. Or they can weave together the subtlety of a performance, but it’s a lot to ask of people.

I wanted this to feel like a live action film and not an animated film, and part of the key was to get very conversational performances.

I know very much from being an actor you rely upon your scene partner, and the energy of a scene partner modulates your energy, because we’re a communal species.

What was your biggest fear doing this movie?

Jon: The biggest thing was not to drop the ball for the people who loved 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 still preserve the soul and charm and the feeling of the first one, while including aspects from the Kipling stories.

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.

Jungle Book - Ben Kingsley and Neel Sethi
The Jungle Book – Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and Mowgli (Neel Sethi) ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ©2016 Disney, photo by Sarah Dunn

The Jungle Book Videobytes

The following video interview clips are from the Los Angeles press conference held on April 4th 2016…

At the press conference, Sir Ben had in interesting insight about his character
Neel and Jon discussed how Neel handled the action sequences in the movie
Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o spoke about how this was her first animated film
Giancarlo Esposito talked about his love for Kipling’s novel and what it meant to him as a child

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.