What are the wizards at Disney studios up to? Well, they’re set to transport us to fantastical jungle realms in their latest blockbuster THE JUNGLE BOOK. I had the chance to sit in on an uber top secret (well it felt like that, at least) panel discussion held at the El Capitan Theatre a few weeks ago I can comfortably say that this ain’t your average Disney live action fairy tale! This is going to be an event.
Going into the presentation I had several questions about the film that I hoped would be addressed. Mainly WHY make another live action retelling of the Rudyard Kipling classic and how badly could they botch the job. For all intents and purposes it seems like they really can succeed.
Firstly the WHY – For Favreau It was the chance to create a lush, alluring landscape while also furthering Disney’s legacy of using cutting edge technology.
Being primarily familiar with the Disney animated film, Favreau describes being impressed by the vibrant multiplane images as a child. For him “It’s not so much the material, it’s what you remember that’s important.” and from there he outlined his mission to create Disney’s most visually arresting live action fairytales.
For Favreau and Legato the challenge was creating film that would not only be heavily comprised of digital effects shots but still felt live action.
The challenge arose in that the project had to be approached as both a live action and animated film. This means the film was heavily storyboarded and performances were captured using motion capture technology, not to supplement the actors but to capture the heart and soul of their performances for later reference.
After the duo lovingly shared their excitement of the film with us we were treated with our first peak into the visual style of the film.
The clip would then answer my second question – Would they mess this up?
The filmmakers showed us a brief clip of a bird on a branch – seriously. But It was the most impressive bit of footage I’ve ever seen in my life. The bird, the branch, the whole environment was computer animated and yet the way the bird moved, the lighting, everything came together to make an image that was beyond photo realistic. It was stunning.
Most importantly, the love and painstaking craftsmanship is undeniable in this project. Countless hours were spent in the Disney animation research library to see how the iconic animators of the past leveraged talking animals and realism in films like Bambi. For Favreau and his team it was absolutely crucial to make the animals expressive while not compromising believability.
To illustrate their attempts at believability, we were introduced to a scene with Baloo who is voiced by Bill Murray. All I can say is WOW! His animation is handled in a way where you don’t feel his movements betray that of a real animal and the camera angles wisely to prevent the viewer from scrutinizing the animals lip movements.
More to the point, the tools and techniques used in films like The Revenant, Avatar, and Gravity are used to brilliant effect here. In fact the majesty of this film elevates the original 1967 film.
Admittedly while the nifty Dolby Vision format added to the stunning visual presentation I can’t say the same for the 3D format. I’m not sure I’d need to witness this in 3D. This film does require a level of removal to sell its fantasy. Just as I wouldn’t wish to be on stage to observe “Phantom of the Opera,” I don’t think I need to be inside this particular world.
All in all, the film looks like fun, and Disney should expect a hit.
THE JUNGLE BOOK roars into theaters April 15.