Los Angeles (dpa) – The brave new world of visual effects opens a door for cinema audiences into otherwise inaccessible worlds: Mars, space, and the farthest corners of the imagination.
In Disney’s new film version of The Jungle Book, the voyage is across the boundaries of nature, to a wilderness barely touched by human presence and the emotional lives of the animals who inhabit it.
The adaptation of British author Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 stories of the orphaned boy Mowgli raised by wolves in the Indian jungle has been part of the Western canon for generations. Walt Disney’s 1967 animated musical adaptation became a classic in its own right.
But neither Kipling nor Disney could have envisioned the digitally-rendered jungle wonderland of director Jon Favreau’s new cinematic version, a lush, thrilling adventure that contemplates home, family and man’s place in the natural world.
The new film stars pre-teen newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, playing live alongside a supporting cast of forest creatures with some familiar Hollywood voices.
Sir Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray provide the voices for Mowgli’s mentors, upright panther Bagheera and freewheeling bear Baloo, while Lupita N’yongo and Giancarlo Esposito play the boy’s adoptive wolf parents.
Idris Elba thunders as the story’s scarred villain, tiger Shere Khan, and Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken cameo as the all-knowing boa constrictor Kaa and megalomaniacal primate King Louie.
Favreau has described The Jungle Book as his Avatar – the 2009 James Cameron science-fiction adventure that blended computer animation with live action and went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time.
But unlike science fiction, The Jungle Book delves into a natural world audiences recognize, and so Favreau needed to keep it real.
He shot the film with Sethi on partially-built mini-sets, filling in the majestic jungle and its denizens later with visual effects.
To help Sethi deliver a convincing performance, Favreau and a cast of motion-blocking actors and puppets acted alongside him – then later erased themselves from the frame.
Animators created photorealistic moving images of more than 70 animal species, 100 million leaves and digital trees, water and rocks, drawing on thousands of hours of real-life footage from India. Motion capture of voice actors’ faces helped guide the process of making the animals talk.
“The whole differentiation between what’s animation, what’s visual effects, what’s live action, that’s all blurring,” Favreau told the film website IMDB.
“The big thing is, tell a great story and have a lot of humanity and a lot of emotion in it. If you can do those things, everything else are tools that you can use to serve that end,” he added.
The result is an iconic fable told as a wildlife extravaganza, that sees Mowgli tossed through the forest canopy by seemingly real monkeys, trapped in a buffalo stampede and drifting down a lazy river atop a paddling bear – serving Kipling’s story and Disney’s vision in ways never imagined before.
If the update stumbles, it is in a trio of musical numbers – an homage to the 1967 film – that some have criticized distract from the film’s otherwise seamlessly rendered jungle world.
The Jungle Book opens worldwide beginning April 7.