Favreau gives 'Jungle Book' a girl-power makeover

Favreau gives 'Jungle Book' a girl-power makeover

Favreau gives 'Jungle Book' a girl-power makeover

One of the best-loved animated films of all-time, "The Jungle Book" boasted iconic songs and a cast that ensured it would be revered as a milestone in Hollywood history.

But for all its virtues, Disney's 1967 version of Rudyard Kipling's tale of an orphan raised by wolves lacked the one thing you'd be sure to find in the jungle -- the female of the species.

"I thought it was a little gender biased. I have two daughters, and the world is different now," says Jon Favreau, who directs the big budget live-action remake which hits US theaters on April 15.

The veteran director set about putting things right by bringing on board Tinseltown A-lister and regular collaborator Scarlett Johansson to give villainous, and very male, snake Kaa the feminine touch.

"I liked the character of this mother figure who is welcoming and also menacing. I thought that there was something interesting psychologically about that," Favreau told AFP.

The 49-year-old, who directed the first two "Iron Man" movies and was an executive producer on the "Avengers" movies, also hired Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong'o to upgrade the role of she-wolf Raksha, who has a bit-part in the 1967 film.

The 3D remake of the "The Jungle Book" employs photorealistic CGI in perhaps the most visually stunning yet of Disney's growing stable of animation-to-live action remakes, which includes box office smashes "Maleficent," "Cinderella" and "Alice in Wonderland."

It stars American newcomer Neel Sethi, 12, as "Mowgli," the man-cub forced to abandon his jungle home for a journey of self-discovery, guided by stern panther Bagheera and free-spirited bear Baloo.

Favreau plucked the youngster from around 2,000 children who auditioned to play Mowgli.

Sethi, whose scenes sprinting through the forest and swinging from vines required the athleticism of a gymnast, was studying for his black belt in Tae Kwon Do at the time.

"I'd never thought about acting before. I was in a dance class and the teacher heard about the role and said I'd be really good for it," Sethi told AFP.

"So I auditioned. I went to LA and two weeks later we started filming."

The young debutant and his female co-stars are joined by a glittering male cast featuring Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba and Bill Murray, who is famously selective about the roles he takes.

"The hardest part of the movie was trying to get Bill Murray on the phone for the first time," said Favreau, who cast the 65-year-old comic actor in the role of Baloo the bear.  

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