Thank you to Disney for sponsoring my attendance at the #JungleBookEvent!
We had already seen The Jungle Book during a special screening prior to that night’s red carpet premiere. My head was spinning with all sorts of questions about the movie for Jon Favreau and Neel Sethi. One thing that was clear as soon as they walked into the room? They were just as excited about seeing the movie again that night as we were. One of my favorite memories from this interview was watching Neel check out The Jungle Book toys on the table in front of him. So speaking of those toys…
What did they think about The Jungle Book merchandise?
Jon: I still get a kick out of it. Elf had no merchandise and I was so sad that there was never merchandise. Finally on Iron Man, there’s merchandise and they send you like one. So you’re protecting it. So this time as we were looking at, they said, “Well if you want to order it, you should order it in advance because if you wait til it comes out, it’s gonna be forever.” The way merchandising works is there’s different quarters and cycles and and if you want to get it when the movie comes out, order it now. So I look at the pictures and [say], “Give me 10 of those, give me 20 of those. Oh, give me 50 of those. I want to give some of those out. Give me 3.” And I fill out the thing. I don’t think anything of it. Are any of you old enough to remember I Love Lucy? Do you remember when she gets a freezer and orders a side of beef? That’s what it felt like. Every day, there would be boxes. They delivered about 20 boxes the first day and that was the first shipment. And my wife goes, “What’s going on here?” Our whole dining room is filled with boxes. Then I get back from Australia, the entire driveway is full of boxes. So we had so many stuffed animals and every kid that comes over, it’s like Christmas… If it’s still around by Halloween, there’s gonna be a very lucky kid. Did you see the singing Baloo yet? Oh, the singing Baloo is great. It’s a good thing I ordered 10 boxes of them. He sings, he says a few lines in the movie when [you] squeeze his paw and then-if you hit it like 4 times- he’ll sing Bare Necessities and dance around. So it’s awesome.
I should interject here to say that at the party after the premiere, Jon Favreau was still talking about Singing Baloo. If you see one, you should probably grab it. Or just show up at Jon’s house. Apparently he has a ton and you could get lucky..@Jon_Favreau thinks you need a Singing Baloo, and more #JungleBookEvent inside scoop! Click To Tweet
And yes…now there is Elf merchandise. But it took a few years. We talked about that, too. He has a narwhal shirt.
So how did Jon start working with Disney?
I was working with Disney on a project called Magic Kingdom which I thought was really cool. It was essentially the park coming to life…almost like a dream-the dreams I used to have when I was younger about Disneyland. And so we were working back and forth with this and at the same time-this was years ago-Disney begins doing films like Cinderella, Maleficent, Alice-and so each of these properties are being explored. Pirates, of course, being explored as their own franchise. So…we weren’t moving forward with this Magic Kingdom project, but I had been researching how do I do something with live humans, but a set that you’re not gonna build because there are too many times when I worked on effects movies where we build these big sets and then you end up replacing them and you pay for it twice. It seems wasteful, inefficient and you know, to me, I want to get all the money they’re gonna spend on the screen. And so I met with Rob Legato, actually, who is our visual effects supervisor on this. After I met him, he was he was on the awards tour for Hugo, which I thought was a wonderful film. And so I was discussing with him, “How would I do this if I want to do this for Magic Kingdom?” Hoping, of course, that maybe it would get made and I would hire him. He invited me back to his place, showed me visual effects, how he did things in Hugo, talked about Avatar, Titanic-working with Marty Scorsese, talked with Jim Cameron. Just a very experienced guy who really understood visual effects and what you could do with them. And I didn’t really think anything of it after that. Then I got the call from Disney to come in. Alan Horn loves Jungle Book. He loved it as a kid. He loved the novel, the stories, and this was gonna be the next one after the success that they had [with other live action adaptations]. They wanted to explore what could happen. I didn’t really understand. I knew the animated film. Doing a photo real version of that… [it] didn’t seem obvious how to do that. But as he discussed Life of Pi and he talked about the tone of that film and he talked about Avatar, it got me thinking, “Well, we could create our own complete environment.” If you do that, I could do something similar to what I was thinking about for Magic Kingdom, which was create-if Disney had a castle this big, make the castle this big, if the branches of trees in this movie in real life were this big or a panther is this big, make him as big as he was in the cartoon. Make him bigger, play with scale. Always keep it photo real, but you could give a dream-like quality so you see the whole thing through kid’s eyes. And so it was their enthusiasm, and their commitment to doing this, and honestly, the confidence they had with the success of the other live action adaptations that made me realize that they were an enthusiastic partner. When you’re making a movie, that’s huge because they’re not fighting you over every little decision. There’s a relaxed comfort that comes with that, that as an artist, you really want that kind of support. When somebody’s scared and green-lights the movie but is nervous about the budget and nervous about this, you’re gonna end up with an energy that’s very hard for me to put out of my head as I’m trying to be creative. And so the whole 3 years we’ve been working together has been a wonderful experience. Every time I show them a new version of it-we started off similar to an animation where it would be pencils and and show reels. So they’re used to looking at that for Pixar and Disney Animation. So they were on board with the story I was pitching the whole time, so in each iteration, nothing was a surprise. They were partners throughout the whole thing. And now, finally, when it’s all completed, it really shows like we’ve been a journey together and it’s just been a wonderful experience. Now that people are seeing it and reacting, they believe in it and and have their belief beginning to be confirmed that their taste is being shared by audiences. It’s nice to feel that support and then know that…they weren’t misguided in in offering that support.
How did Jon know he found his Mowgli?
I can’t take credit for this talented young man. He wasn’t experienced, but he had a quality-and being a father, I recognized it-it was confidence. He was a full formed version of himself, and so we kind of got who he was very quick on the comeback, very confident, and I think the fact that he wasn’t a kid who wasn’t 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 or not. They came in on a lark. He saw a flyer. They auditioned…2,000 kids…They would send me the best of the lot and and he was one. He’s a little younger than we thought. He’s from Manhattan, that helped. I’m from New York. I like the Century Theatre. And there was something that made me smile. He started doing Martial Arts. After the audition was over, he says, “I do my own stunts.” And I was like, “This kid’s having a good time.” Then we brought his family out and I met with the family. It was a big, important part because it could be a disruptive experience if you don’t have a good support system around you. His sister, actually, really sealed the deal. She was 16, she turned out pretty well and actually prepared him for the audition. I was like, “If they they raised this one, they’re good parents, and as he grows up, they’ll be able to handle that.” And the whole family was there…on the set. And the whole set became a family.
What was the casting experience like for Neel?
Neel: 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 Jon really liked me. And then 2 weeks later, we flew to LA. [We’re] in the hotel, and the producer called and we’re like flipping and jumping and we were so happy. We were so happy, we went out, and got my favorite food-lobster ravioli.
What was it like for Neel to act with things that weren’t actually there?
Neel: I just made it natural that if this was a puppet, I would just make it normal that it’s not a puppet. It’s like a bear or a panther…Oh, that’s not a Puppet. That’s Baloo. Hi Baloo. And then instead of seeing a puppet, I would see this [holds up Baloo toy] or something like that. That made it a lot easier. And the puppets-sometimes they made them look like Baloo and that helped a lot. And John actually got into the puppet sometimes and that helped me interact with him.
Were there any scenes that were scary to film?
.@TheNeelSethi's least favorite part of filming? The mud! #JungleBookEvent Click To Tweet
Neel: None of it was really scary cause I was always 30 inches off the ground, but I didn’t really like the mud. It would dry on me it would get all hot and itchy. And then they would spritz it with cold water for it to like get muddy again and I didn’t like that and I had…to act like it was normal, but I’m getting chased by a stampede of buffalo.
What was it like to be in school while filming The Jungle Book?
Neel: I was in a normal school and the part-when I auditioned-it was actually the last day of 5th Grade, the last day of Elementary School. Our school split up into 2 schools basically for Middle School. And all of my good friends and everybody went to the same school as me, and I would really slip right back in. Then we did the test…the state test and I was just like, it was just normal again. Everybody thought it was cool for like a week and then [they were] like, “All right, you know, enough.”
Did Jon ever take anything meaningful from the set as a souvenir?
Jon: Yeah, I do, to my wife’s chagrin because it ain’t going nowhere. It’s all just piling up. The one I took from this was-if you notice when [Mowgli] goes into the Temple where King Louis is-the cowbell.
That’s a reference to my favorite Easter Egg in the film. And I’m not just saying that because it’s the only one I’ve caught so far. I’m pretty sure it would still be my favorite even when I see (or read) about the rest of them.
How did Jon decide what music to incorporate into the film?
Jon: Some of it was intuition. A lot of it was trial and error, and honestly it was the part I was most
concerned about as the plane is leaving the runway now. Because if you don’t have the music… I know when I’m watching Creed and that Rocky [theme] comes on, I’m like, “Yeah, you know.” And when the music in Cinderella starts popping up. So I remember as an audience member [what] I wanted. As a film maker, you’re scared. You’re like, “Is it gonna break the tone?” But as a film maker, I know I got to give… And as a matter of fact, there was one of the songs that wasn’t in the earlier version and my wife… this is the one time, she was like, “You’re not gonna have that song in?” And I’m like, “No, No, it might not fit tonally.” And she’s like, “I think you should have the song.” And the kids wanted to hear the song… It was early enough in the process that we worked it in, because when I came on board, there was no music in at all. I started working on the Bare Necessities and then we worked in the one with Walken. But the trick of course is not to-if it’s a Musical, it breaks the tone-and so it was John Debney who’s orchestration of the music helped tie it in to the entire piece.
Other movies get shaped gradually. This one all kind of happens like a ship and the bottle at the end, and so a great thrill for me is to is to show the kids and the whole family what we’ve been doing and then you get your first sense by looking in their eyes. And sometimes you show them versions that are almost done because you know their taste. I know it from the perspective of me. I’m 49. I have 3 kids that are different ages. Each one of them seeing how scary you could make it, see when they’re scared but they like it, see when they’re laughing. See the jokes that they get or don’t get… Can you make one for the 9 year old that isn’t boring to the 14 year old? And then, of course, you know, for for my age as well. It’s a really interesting sampling and then now too, I’m really excited because tonight the cast, a lot of the cast haven’t seen it. Neel saw it for the first time.
Neel : I loved it.
Jon : And that was really cool for me to, you know. So right now is the fun part for me as all these choices that seem so precarious at times: how to balance the music, how to balance the tone, how to balance the action and the humor and how to make that all work together. This is this is the part where it’s fun cause you see where you knew or you didn’t know.
Find full coverage of the #JungleBookEvent right here on As The Bunny Hops.
The Jungle Book opens in theaters everywhere in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D on April 15th!