I received an all expense paid trip from Disney to attend the #JungleBookEvent. The opinions expressed here are my own. I received no monetary compensation.
We were fortunate to be able to screen The Jungle Book the evening before our scheduled interview to help prepare our questions, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling that comes over you when someone like Jon Favreau walks into a room of 25 bloggers – you can feel the excitement in the air. You can feel (and see) everyone sit up just a little straighter. He walks in with an enormous smile on his face and within seconds is laughing and chatting and making everyone in the room feel comfortable. His smile is contagious. Within seconds you realize the passion he has for the movie he has created.
Re-making such a classic can be difficult but because of the support Jon (Favreau) received from Disney who believed in his vision for the film, it was a wonderful experience and the end product is outstanding. He didn’t plan to include some of the music from the original and it was one of the things he was most concerned about. But then his wife, who is very supportive and rarely goes against what he is doing because she knows that as a film maker he is facing many different opinions and is confident that he’ll figure it out – said to him, “I think you should have the song,” – So, along with some of our favorite songs – Baloo’s The Bare Necessities and Kaa’s Trust in Me, thanks to Jon’s wife, King Louis’s I Wan’na Be Like You made it too!
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling that comes over you when you see next to Jon Favreau a small, handsome little boy (Neel Sethi). As a mother, I was immediately taken by this child. His smile is infectious. His demeanor is much more mature then his age. He exudes an intelligence beyond his years, but at the same time you see the little boy shine through. Nothing could prepare you for the heartwarming feeling when this boy sees “himself” in The Jungle Boy action figure perched on the table. You suddenly see the little boy who wants to play with the action figure at the same time you are realize that this child was the center of an incredible movie, this child was actually very poised, this child was a star. The only human in an epic Disney movie. This child, who had never acted professionally before but did the most incredible job any director, producer, movie-maker could ever hope for.
When Jon Favreau was asked how he knew he had found his Mowgli when he found Neel, his answer was immediate: “…he wasn’t experienced but he had a quality and being a father, I recognized the quality as confidence . . . . he was quick on the comeback, very confident, and I think the fact that he wasn’t a kid who was out there looking for acting jobs made it fun for him. It didn’t feel like he was concerned about failing or concerned about getting the part. They came in on a lark …. – there was something about him that made me smile.” And, as he speaks about Neel, he continues to smile, and you can see a true affection between the two that has grown over the making of the film. You can see the pride in Jon Favreau’s eyes when he refers to the young boy sitting next to him.
“Everything in this movie is geared toward the performance of this one kid,” Favreau has said. “He was just so real. He felt right.”
When Neel was asked what it was like to audition and get the part, he confidently answered the question addressed to him, without hesitation. “I was in a dance class and the teacher for the dance class said I’d be very good for it . . . . I never thought about acting before but I auditioned and they really liked me so we flew to LA and then two weeks later we flew to LA again and were in the hotel and the producer called . . . . we were so happy. We were so happy, we went out, and got my favorite food.” (lobster and ravioli!)
In order to coach Neel into acting against something inanimate, Jon Favreau came up with the idea of always having some performers, ones who will never be seen in the film, on stage with Neel. It was either Jon himself or one of five puppeteers and Neel would react and interact with someone live so he knew where to focus. They used puppeteers from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to keep the scenes fresh for Neel and the puppeteers would sync their actions to vocal tracks that had been recorded by the voice actors.
When asked about filming and acting alone – with nothing there – Neel said he would look at a puppet and think “This is Baloo.” He made sure to keep in his head – it isn’t a puppet, it’s Baloo.
” . . . . sometimes they made them (the puppets) look like Baloo and that helped a lot and Jon actually got into the puppet sometimes and that helped me interact with him.”
What a commitment by a well known and well respected man to a young child, who had never acted before. Together they brought an incredible story to life. I can’t wait for you all too see it.
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