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A Look at The Jungle Book 2
by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Digital Media FX

It has become a regular Disney tradition now to take original classic animated movies from the Disney vault and turn them into sequels. There’s even a special department for these quickly produced feature film sequels called DisneyToon Studios, the feature film branch of Walt Disney Television Animation.

DisneyToon Studios latest offering is The Jungle Book 2. While The Jungle Book is a classic by itself, it also holds a special sacredness because it was the last movie that Walt Disney personally supervised before his untimely death.


The Jungle Gang is Back
Now, 35 years later, The Jungle Book gang is back with the sequel picking up very shortly after the original movie’s ending. Disney’s goals for the sequel (story goals, not money goals) are:

1) To reacquaint the audience with the characters.
2) To do a more in-depth exploration of the relationship between Baloo and Mowgli.
3) Create more “memorable” jazz music scenes.
4) Bring back the “sense of fun” from the original movie.

Jungle Book 2 is directed by Steve Trenbirth and produced by Chris Chase and Mary Thorne.

“The original film left the door wide open to explore the future of these wonderful characters,” says Thorne. “It naturally led us to a coming-of-age story for Mowgli. He faces the universal questions everyone encounters at some point in their lives – that juncture between our past and our future.”

Perhaps the tone of Thorne’s comment comes from public criticism over the amount of sequels Disney is churning out from its classics. The idea that The Jungle Book is perfect for a sequel is also echoed by Chase.

“It’s so irresistible to want to tell another story with these characters, especially with a relationship so delicious as the one between Baloo and Mowgli,” Chase says. “You can’t help but want to spend more time with these characters. The more we thought about it, the more we realized it would be quite organic for Mowgli to find comfort with his own kind, yet also miss his greatest childhood influences.”



The Influence of Computers
Animation has come leaps and bounds since the days of The Jungle Book. With computers, it no longer takes hundreds of animators nearly half a decade to put out a movie. DisneyToon Studios is churning out movies every year and already has seven under its belt.

While reviews for The Jungle Book 2 agree that it has the look and feel of a typical Disney direct to video movie (supersized to the big screen), one has to be impressed with the attempt that went into a few scenes. Take the song W-I-L-D, for example. During the song, over 100 animals are making their way up a tall ruin as the camera seamlessly moves around them.

“It’s the most complex piece of film I’ve ever worked on, and one of the most complex I’ve ever seen,” Thorne says. “It’s an animal free-for-all with all the bells and whistles – it’s a true show-stopper that just pops off the screen.”

Camera movements was a big benefit to the use of computers.

“Today’s technology gives us some incredible freedom in terms of camera movements,” Trenbirth says. “We’re able to enhance the artistry and take a much more cinematic approach to the camera work, in terms of how we set up, establish and move through our shots. As always, though, the trick is to make the marriage of these technological advancements and traditional animation appear seamless. We don’t want the effects to cause any distractions – they’re there to enhance the storytelling.”


Differentiating the Characters
Important to the filmmakers was the ability to create, through design, differences in the characters to help express the character’s true self. The first challenge came with Shere Kahn, who they kept “in the shadows” in the early part of the movie to help reflect his “wounded pride”.

“Shere Khan literally is a walking, breathing, stalking sunset – you can’t take your eyes off the guy,” says Art Director Mike Peraza. “We’ve been able to enhance his colors, giving him tones and rim lights that work even better against the jungle backgrounds to fully, artistically flesh out his character.”

Yet with Baloo, they softened sharp angles in order to make him appear more “cuddly”.

“Walt Disney discovered that one reason Mickey was so popular was all the circles within his design,” Peraza says. “Circular designs and soft shapes are nonthreatening and very well-received by kids – that’s why you see so many dramatic angles on Disney villains, like Shere Khan and Cruella de Vil. The angles imply a touch of danger and evil.”



The Music
The Jungle Book was well known for its upbeat and memorable songs, a task that is hard to duplicate (just look at many other Disney sequels). For this task, Disney tapped songwriters Paul Grabowsky and Lorraine Feather to produce a couple of up-tempo songs like “Jungle Rhythm” and “W-I-L-D”.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have really beautifully-drawn animals singing my songs,” Feather says. “All of my music tends to have whimsy incorporated into it, so it’s perfect for jungle or woodland creatures. Because of that, some of the lyrics came quite easily. Like the way ‘Jungle Rhythm’ begins, I just loved the idea of rhinos rubbing their eyes at daybreak.”

For the film’s background score, Disney brought on board Joel McNeely, who also scored last year’s Return to Neverland, the sequel to Peter Pan.

“Joel’s score allows us to stop and enjoy emotional, heartfelt moments, moments where you see the characters evolve,” Chase says.

Trenbirth takes those comments one-step further in reference to both the score and the songs.

“As jazz moves you and gets you up in your seat bouncing, the film’s score and songs never allow you to sit back and disconnect from the image or story,” says Trenbirth. “We wanted to keep you involved and engaged within the film. You never just view ‘The Jungle Book 2,’ you stay within the picture.”


Walt Disney’s Inspiration
There are many debates as to whether Walt Disney would be rolling over in his grave if he realized that his animation empire had become a production line for sequels to his classics. Disney was a visionary who came up with new ideas and concepts, never needing to recycle old material to entertain. Yet there is an inspiration to many of today’s animators when they have the opportunity to “continue” a project that had once been associated with one of the greatest visionaries of our time. As Chris Chase puts it:

“Almost every artist in this building got into animation because of Walt Disney,” Chase says, “and working on this particular film – given the historical significance of the original – was an absolute inspiration.”

All images ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Joe Tracy is publisher of Digital Media FX and editor of AnimationProducts.com.

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