Last week I had the immense pleasure of attending the press conference for Disney's latest film, 'The Jungle Book.'
I'm always walking a fine line when I attend these events between being the "journalist" and reporting what the talent had to discuss about their film, and being a "fangirl," all dewey-eyed to be in the same room with such talented folks. Full Disclosure: The fangirl me usually wins. (Shut up. I know.)
So it was that as I sat in rapt attention as Jon Favreau laid out his vision for what the telling of the Jungle Book story could look like with all the advances that technology has made to this point in time, I could do nothing but nod in agreement.
"100 years ago was the book (The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling), 50 years ago was the animated film, and now 50 years later, it's time to update the story for our generation." Jon Favreau
"Of course, Jon. Brilliant."
How did he get SIR Ben Kingsley involved?
"We were at a party and Jon seated himself next to me with a benign smile and invited me to play Bagheera and I think I said yes before he got to the end of the sentence." -Sir Ben Kingsley
I'd like to add right here that SIR Ben Kingsley carries as much presence in person as you would imagine. He commands your attention when he speaks, even when he's joking around. I wanted to give him a standing ovation every time he opened his mouth because of that delicious, regal accent. Even as he was casually discussing his role as the voice of Bagheera the Panther, he oozed fabulousness. *picture me staring in rapt attention, batting my eyelashes* Pure fangirlyness. Don't judge me.
The kid. Let me just tell you about the kid.
12 year old Neel Sethi is the only REAL thing in this film. You see amazing talking animals and incredible landscapes and beautiful scenes in Disney's Jungle Book that are a perfect blend of the original Kipling story and the delightful animated feature from the mid-60's. Everything is jaw-droppingly beautiful and perfectly fake in all of it's Computer Generated glory.
But the kid. Is real. He's in pretty much every scene and interacts with his CG environments and the other animals flawlessly. I had to keep reminding myself that he was acting on his own. An incredible performance. He managed to make you laugh and care about him and empathize with his desire to stay in the jungle and worry for his life.
This is me, wanting to stand up again and applaud this brilliant young actor, chosen from 2,000 others to perfectly embody young Mowgli, the man cub, and can, not only hold his own with the other accomplished actors, but completely steal the show.
He was quite delightful and poised. I loved how he held his own in the midst of so much weighty talent.
Speaking of talent...
The lovely and talented Lupita Nyong'o came on board when she noticed how much compassion Jon Favreau had for the characters. Even with all of the state of the art effects.
"At the heart of it was the love of the story and a real vision for each character that he was going to bring to life. And for me, that's what got me."
And then, Giancarlo Esposito, the voice of the Alpha-wolf, Akela completely took my breath away when he shared how his own mother read The Jungle Book to him and his brother and they recited the verses of The Law of Jungle. And he began...
"Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die."
I will not give away any more than to say this: This cast is about the richest, most talented ever assembled. I will review the movie on Saturday, but right now I think it's safe to tell you that your Inner Jungle Fangirl (or Fanboy) will be perfectly satisfied by what this talented group brings to the big screen.
Disney's The Jungle Book opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, April 15th, 2016.