Finding that tricky balance in the new “Jungle Book” hybrid between honoring and transcending Disney wasn’t easy, but director Jon Favreau certainly found the sweet spot with the King Louie sequence. It’s scary and mysterious as well as funny and mischievous. And the linchpin, appropriately enough, was “Apocalypse Now.”
“And so it was a great opportunity to reinvent this whole sequence while still maintaining the plot point that it served within the comedic version of the ’67 film. Also, as I did research trying to figure out what the photo-real version of this was, you come up against the fact that there are no orangutans in this part of the world. All the flora and fauna were based on real research, even the environment we built – the temple ruins – are an amalgam based on actual sites in India.
“And then I started thinking who could it be? And I connected ‘Deer Hunter’ with ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the lighting [from cinematographer Bill Pope] and the mood and who could be a character that could ride the tone just right, where there could be menace but also humor and quirkiness? And somebody who would be a delicious cameo that everyone would be looking forward was Walken,” Favreau said.
Louie’s entrance recalls Brando’s Kurtz emerging from the shadows: calm, seductive but slightly deranged. It’s pure Walken (with a nice cowbell nod to the Blue Oyster Cult “Saturday Night Live” skit). And the fact that it frightens youngsters was Favreau’s nod to “Bambi,” especially given the fact that Louie craves the red flower (fire) for complete domination.
But how to incorporate the iconic song by the Sherman brothers, “I Wanna Walk Like You,” without ruining the mood? At first they went with a swing version like the original, but it seemed too much like a rug pole, according to Favreau.
“And then Dick Sherman was brought in because the story points were different, and the moment he heard gigantopithecus, he said, ‘Stop right there. That’s a great word. Say it again.’ And he sat down and wrote the best verse of the song: ‘Oh, how magnificus it would be for a gigantopithecus, if a gigantopithecus like me could learn to be like someone like you.'” And Favreau played the ukulele.
“I still find this movie delicious to watch. It’s like one of those nesting dolls – there’s so much there.”