Actor/filmmaker Jon Favreau has gone through multiple creative phases in his career, from crafting free-wheeling adult indie fare (Swingers, Made) to churning out wide-eyed family entertainment (Elf, Zathura: A Space Adventure), before he made a splash in the world of genre blockbusters with Marvel Studios' Iron Man, which he then followed in fairly rapid succession with Iron Man 2 and the western/sci-fi mashup Cowboys & Aliens.
Most recently, Favreau took a break from Hollywood tentpoles in order to return to his personal indie roots, with the dramedy Chef, which premiered this past week at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival. (Watch a clip from the movie HERE.) However, it appears he's now ready to jump back feet-first into the world of big-budget intellectual properties and larger-scale studio filmmaking.
Currently, Favreau is moving ahead on a new film adaptation of The Jungle Book for Walt Disney Pictures, with a Fall 2015 release in mind. However, upon finishing his take on the classic Rudyard Kipling adventure, Favreau intends to move forward with a different project for the Mouse House - namely, Magic Kingdom, a movie based around the company's amusement park, which Favreau's been attached to direct since 2010.
Favreau attended Chef's premiere at the SXSW festivities, where (via Collider) he confirmed that Jungle Book is a priority for Disney, saying "We're full-bore on that one right now;" he also echoed his past comments about the project having "mythic elements" that he finds intriguing, before he elaborated a bit on his planned vision:
"You have the Kipling stuff, which has a really strong mythic theme, which is great for a big movie like that. I love big themes and a hero's journey and the whole Joseph Campbell aspect of it, but then you also have this personality of the Walt Disney [animated] film - which, although tonally is different than what we're doing, there's a lot of great images and feelings that I remember from being a kid that I'd love to incorporate using today's technology and storytelling techniques."
Most people are best familiar with Disney's 1967 musical animated Jungle Book, though the studio also released a live-action movie adaptation of the story back in 1994, starring Jason Scott Lee, Lena Headey and Cary Elwes, and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy (1999), Van Helsing).
That film is an adventure that pushes the boundaries of its PG Rating and features realistic - well, "realistic" - versions of Mowgli's animal companions (read: none of them talk, sing or dance, sadly). Favreau's movie will instead be (according to the actor/director) "a mixture of animation and live-action with today's technology," with Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) lined up to voice the tiger Shere Khan.
As far as tone goes, one imagines that this Jungle Book - based on a script written by Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) - might skew a bit younger that other live-action adventure genre helpings from Disney over the past decade, like the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, John Carter, or Lone Ranger (the latter of which contains cannibalism, genocide and other decidedly not "family-friendly" elements, which is the planned brand for Favreau's movie).
Kipling's Jungle Book source material could be interpreted in a few significantly different fashions, ranging from bright and cheery (see: the Disney cartoon) to the in-fashion dark and gritty approach; that could be key to how Warner Bros. intends to distinguish its own developing Jungle Book film, with Ron Howard possibly directing. Magic Kingdom, on the other hand, is most assuredly going to have a gee-whiz sensibility in keeping with Favreau's previous family entertainment offerings.
Favreau has spent years researching and developing Magic Kingdom, having even gotten a helping hand from Pixar's brain trust at one point. Naturally, one of the biggest obstacle presented by the concept is how to properly mashup the various IPs and iconic characters featured in the eponymous Disney attraction (like how The LEGO Movie successfully combines so many different franchise icons).
As Favreau told Collider (via /Film):
"The issue is how do you treat characters in one film that are differentiated [in other films]. So if you’re doing a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, how do you differentiate from the pirates in your movie, is that confusing to an audience and does that ruin other franchises that are existing? So I think when the time is right, I think I have a strong take that would make that very clear. But again Jungle Book is a priority for [Disney] and something they’re very excited about and something I really connected with. Hopefully, through that relationship, Magic Kingdom will become the next thing down the line."
Chef is already generating positive buzz, so it sounds as though Favreau is on the rebound creatively, after having arguably suffered from big-budget burnout on the Iron Man sequel and Cowboys & Aliens. That's a good harbinger for the prospective quality of Jungle Book; coupled with Favreau's newfound experience on effects-heavy fare, the film could be one of Disney's better live-action releases in recent memory.
If that happens, then we'll be all the more excited to see what Favreau does with Magic Kingdom thereafter.
The Jungle Book opens in U.S. theaters on October 9th, 2015.
We'll keep you updated on Magic Kingdom.