THE BLOG
08/31/2016 12:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Three Screenwriting Lessons Disney's The Jungle Book Can Teach Screenwriters

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This Post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Disney’s live action retelling of The Jungle Book is finally on Blu-ray and DVD, offering a chance for adults and children alike to rediscover one of the most cutting edge films ever made.

The film has earned more than $911 million at the global box office to date and stars Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) as the voice of Baloo, Sir Ben Kingsley (Learning to Drive, The Walk) as Bagheera and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as the voice of mother wolf Raksha. Scarlett Johansson (Avengers: Age of Ultron) gives life to Kaa, Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) provides the voice of alpha-male wolf Akela, Idris Elba (Beast of No Nation) roars as the voice of Shere Khan, and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) lends his iconic voice to King Louie.

The Jungle Book Reimagined special feature in this release features director Jon Favreau sitting down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to discuss the film and reflect on the years they devoted to the reimagining of this timeless tale. You will quickly discover how Rudyard Kipling's original stories and the classic animated film influenced their unique approach, you will witness the technical wizardry that enabled the team to create a believable and thrilling movie-going experience, and you will learn how they borrowed a page from Walt Disney's innovation playbook to make it all happen.

We’ve pulled three essential and amazing screenwriting lessons that screenwriters can utilize in their own scripts.

1. Find the Sweet Spot When Adapting and Re-Imagining Material

Director Jon Favreau discussed his initial journey into finding the vision of what this live action retelling of both a classic Rudyard Kipling novel -- and of course the beloved animated Disney feature of 1967 -- would be. The studio initially gave him a treatment that was much more geared towards the darker side of the original novel. It had a PG-13 vibe to it with more violence, no music, etc.

Favreau was a fan of Disney’s animated version. Obviously it wouldn’t work to have just a live-action retelling of that animated script and he didn’t want to focus on the darker edge of the novel. So it was about finding the sweet spot between the two.

When you’re adapting source material like novels, short stories, and graphic novels, that’s exactly where screenwriters need to start. Finding that sweet spot, which is basically the core of the concept, story, and characters. The great adaptations of cinema have accomplished that while offering slightly different context and perspective. In the case of The Jungle Book, the filmmakers and screenwriters did a masterful job of finding the core of what they and audiences loved most about both the book and the animated classic, and combined them to create a whole new experience that felt both different and familiar.

That’s the key to adaptations and that’s the key to how remakes and reimaginings should be. And that is why Favreau’s The Jungle Book will stand as both one of the greatest remakes and as one of the greatest adaptations we’ve seen on the screen.

2. Always Be Cutting Edge

Favreau talks about the history of Walt Disney and his development process. When they were making this live action The Jungle Book, they went back to the Disney archives and discovered that Walt and his development team had a stenographer present in all meetings so that the development process they were going through could have an archival record. Favreau was amazed to learn that much of the discussions about story, characters, and technology were the very same discussions that were happening in his development process.

And what Walt Disney and Jon Favreau had in common in that sense was that they were both trying to break new ground and were developing cutting edge storytelling and technology. With Walt, they used cell animation. With Jon, they used computer graphics to realize these animals in photo-realistic fashion.

Screenwriters can learn from this. It’s not enough to go with the flow of the industry and just try to fit in with what everyone else is doing. You don’t create memorable stories and movies by doing that. You have to always be ready and willing to take chances and break new ground. You have to push the boundaries of storytelling and screenwriting to break through and make a true dent in the future of cinema.

3. Overwhelm the Audience with Emotions

Favreau and his producers talked about the sleight of hand that is necessary to give the audience the most emotional experience you can -- despite the forefront of the technology that is used to create the animals Mogli interacts with, the special effects which created that world, etc.

When you focus on the emotions that the characters are going through and get the audience to invest in that, then everything else doesn’t matter. There is little to no scrutinizing about the more fantastical elements at play.

Screenwriters can learn from this by injecting true emotion into each and every moment of their script amidst the fantastical elements of action, suspense, thrills, scares, and hijinks that are found in any given genre. When you present characters that are caught up in emotional windstorms during these settings, the script becomes more believable in the end. The reader and the audience aren’t distracted by the logic beyond that character feeling remorse, anger, hatred, jealousy, insanity, love, devotion, sacrifice, or whatever emotional arc is presented.

You can write fun roller coaster rides while still attaching that emotion to give such scripts as much story and character depth as any critically acclaimed drama.


Jon Favreau's stunning live-action reimagining of Walt Disney's animated classic is now available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On-Demand.

Bonus features include:

BLU-RAY & DIGITAL HD:

  • "The Jungle Book" Reimagined - Favreau sits down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to discuss "The Jungle Book" and reflect on the years they devoted to the reimagining of this timeless tale. Discover how Rudyard Kipling's original stories and the classic animated film influenced their unique approach, witness the technical wizardry that enabled the team to create a believable and thrilling movie-going experience, and learn how they borrowed a page from Walt Disney's innovation playbook to make it all happen. Lastly, meet the all-star voice cast who help bring the film's colorful characters to life, as well as the musicians who accent the adventure with a majestic music score.
  • I Am Mowgli - Follow the extraordinary journey of 12-year-old Neel Sethi, who was selected from thousands of hopefuls worldwide to play Mowgli "alongside" some of today's biggest movie stars. Get a glimpse of Neel's life before Hollywood came calling, check out his audition that sealed the deal, and see how a close-working relationship with Favreau brought out his best. Plus, Neel shares how filming "The Jungle Book" was one wild ride, from working alongside imaginary animals to performing some super-fun stunts.
  • King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer - So, exactly how do you create a musical number featuring one man-cub, a massive, legendary ape and an army of wild and wily monkeys in the Seeonee jungle? Viewers are granted rare and unique access to the development of the "I Wan'na Be Like You" sequence in which King Louie attempts to coerce Mowgli into giving up Man's deadly "red flower" (fire). A fast-moving musical progression reel showcases storyboards, animatics, Christopher Walken's recording session and visual effects layers, which ultimately merge to form one of the film's most memorable scenes.
  • Audio Commentary - Favreau delivers his scene-by-scene perspective on the live-action adventure "The Jungle Book" with all the candor and humor you'd expect from this multi-talented actor-writer-director-producer.

DVD

  • King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer - So, exactly how do you create a musical number featuring one man-cub, a massive, legendary ape and an army of wild and wily monkeys in the Seeonee jungle? Viewers are granted rare and unique access to the development of the "I Wan'na Be Like You" sequence in which King Louie attempts to coerce Mowgli into giving up Man's deadly "red flower" (fire). A fast-moving musical progression reel showcases storyboards, animatics, Christopher Walken's recording session and visual effects layers, which ultimately merge to form one of the film's most memorable scenes.