New 'Jungle Book' was an unusual 'journey' for veteran Disney producer

Posted April 19

“Most of what you’re seeing isn’t there.”

That may be an odd thing to hear for anyone who has seen the striking visuals in the trailer for Disney’s brand-new version of “The Jungle Book,” but producer Brigham Taylor knows what he's talking about.

Taylor produced the film alongside director Jon Favreau, and though its marketing makes “The Jungle Book” look like a live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1967 animated classic, little aside from the young boy at the center of the story actually exists outside of a hard drive.

Taylor said the availability of advanced effects was a big part of what persuaded the people at Disney to revisit Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales of a young boy growing up in the jungle. Previous attempts at a live-action adaptation had been made over the years, but “there’s only so much you could do with a trained tiger or an orangutan,” Taylor said. “We knew we could create animals that could embody the very personalities that Walt had created (in the 1967 animated film), so it felt like the timing was right.”

Taylor, who landed in Southern California after a degree from Brigham Young University got him started in the movie business, is no stranger to special effects. His IMDB profile cites work on films such as 2015’s “Tomorrowland” and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Yet he describes “The Jungle Book” as a “strange journey unlike any movie I’ve ever worked on.”

The difference is “the level of your reliance on the effects,” he explained. Working on the Pirates of the Caribbean films involved a lot of physical set construction and shooting on real boats out in the middle of the ocean. “And then you figured out how to cleverly integrate a zombie pirate or a Kraken,” he said.

But “The Jungle Book” reversed the process, injecting a single live element — actor Neel Sethi, who plays young Mowgli — into the synthetic environments that had been built for all the talking animals.

“It forced us to build the world before we photographed anything,” Taylor said.

Familiar voices such as those of Bill Murray and Christopher Walken bring the iconic animal characters such as Baloo and King Louie to life, but Disney didn’t use a lot of Andy Serkis-style motion capture on the Hollywood veterans.

“There was a little bit used with Christopher Walken, and it was the only place that made sense,” Taylor said.

Weta digital — which brought Serkis’ Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — used some of Walken’s facial expressions as references for his performance as the gigantic singing orangutan.

Taylor and company were determined to make this “Jungle Book” their own.

“We didn’t want to be something that was just trying to be a photocopy of the original,” he said. “The 1967 animated film, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful, and it stands on its own. We wanted to make something that was a companion piece but stood on its own.”

The animation is a big part of that effort, but the team also made several adjustments to the story. Taylor admits that in some cases that meant inventing material, but he also points out that the changes often tied the narrative closer to Rudyard Kipling’s original stories.

It’s been a long and rewarding journey for Taylor, who admits he had his doubts when he first arrived at Disney back in 1994.

“I didn’t know how long that would last,” he said, “but it wound up working out.”

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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