Neel Sethi in a scene from The Jungle Book.
Neel Sethi in a scene from The Jungle Book. Photo Disney

Jungle Book a contemporary classic

REMAKING a beloved classic can be fraught with danger but the new Jungle Book deftly navigates expectation and goes beyond the bare necessities to craft a well-considered contemporary version.

Based on Rudyard Kipling's story, the latest adaptation is inspired by Disney's classic animated film but reimagined with modern technology.

Like protagonist Mowgli using his wily "tricks" in the story, this film's beauty is as much in its clever visual effects as the narrative with computer-generated imagery used to create lush landscapes and nuanced realism.

It was the opportunity to use new technology in such a way that drew director Jon Favreau to the project in the first place.

"I don't know that I would have picked (The Jungle Book) out of the blue but (Disney executive) Alan Horn had such a passion for it and was telling me about his idea to bring the story to live-action... and about the technology that is available today," Favreau told Weekend.

"He was talking about using techniques like in Life of Pi and Avatar with this material and it got me thinking so I came up with a pitch for it and it's really been a dream job for the past three years." Those techniques include "ray tracing" where reflective values are assigned to each surface, allowing light and movement to be rendered in a natural way and seamlessly blend a real person into a digital environment.

"You get levels of photo-realism with the light and the water that hasn't been done before and it has a way of fooling you; hopefully you forget that you're watching a simulation.

"In a way too it is also a bit of a tip of the cap to Walt Disney as well in the sense that he was considered high-tech for his time. He was on the cutting edge and... did things like be the first to lock the soundtrack with picture so that the characters were perfectly choreographed and things like that."

But it's not just the special effects that shines - all-star casting of the likes of Bill Murray as Baloo and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa alongside newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the only real-life actor, bring the characters to life.

Throughout the process Favreau aimed to honour the legacy of Disney but still retain the gravitas and mythology of Kipling's original tale and this was reflected in the performances.

"Take Christopher Walken as King Louie. He was a piece of casting that the studio didn't understand at first but I said 'trust me, we need him' because he is a guy who can be quirky and fun but also menacing," he said.

"There is a sense of stakes - people can get eaten in this movie! You have death and menace but you also have character development, humour and music so it seems to balance out well.

"We wanted to make it exciting for all audiences and sometimes when you young the movie up too much you lose the interest of the older members of the audience so we opted for PG instead of G."

The film doesn't just seek to find balance between light and shade but also between old and new.

The familiar tunes are still there but have been worked smoothly into the narrative in a fresh way.

"It wasn't effortless - you question how much music you have before you have a musical and once you have a musical it changes the tone of the entire movie so we didn't want to slip into that. People expect it but you have to make sure it fits with the rest of the movie."

Even the credits are a pleasure to watch and they too were a nod to Disney and in keeping with the level of attention to detail - the book shown is the same one from the archives that opens in the beginning of the original film.

The Jungle Book is showing in cinemas now.

The Jungle Book

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Neel Sethi

Director: Jon Favreau

Rating: PG

Star profile: Christopher Walken

Quirky fact: As a teenager, he worked as a lion tamer in a circus.

Best known for: The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction, his appearance in the Fatboy Slim music video for Weapon of Choice.

If you like this you'll like these: Avatar, Life of Pi, Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent.

Quote: "I try not to worry about things I can't do anything about."

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