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
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)
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
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.”
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
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
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
Baloo, they softened sharp angles in order to make him appear
“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 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
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
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.”
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