Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales of an Indian boy raised by wolves, first published as a series in the late 19th century, has been adapted more than a dozen times. But Walt Disney’s 1967 animated musical—his last—set the gold standard. Now, director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is giving Mowgli and his animal pals a 21st-century tech update. Newcomer Neel Sethi, 10, plays Mowgli, and there’s a lot riding on those young shoulders. Not only does he do his own tree-climbing—”A 10-year-old in a loin cloth is hard to double with a stuntman,” Favreau says— but he’s also the only live-action actor in a performance-capture spectacle that’s more Avatar than The Little Mermaid, with photo-real talking animals.
The animal cast includes Bill Murray (Baloo), Christopher Walken (King Louie), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba as the tiger villain Shere Kahn, and recent Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo (12 Years A Slave) as Rakcha, the mother wolf.
As for the music, Favreau says, “although it’s not a musical, we wanted to work in the more memorable moments from the ‘67 film.” So that would include Murray singing “The Bare Necessities”? Oh, yeah, he says. “How do you not do that?”