If you’ve seen this year’s live-action adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” one of the biggest changes from the beloved 1967 animated movie was a larger-than-life version of the orangutan King Louie.
The character tries to convince the man cub, Mowgli (Neel Sethi), to be a part of his gang so he can help him acquire fire. Unfortunately, for King Louie, he’s not rather convincing.
In an interview with INSIDER ahead of the film’s release on Blu-ray and DVD, visual effects supervisor Robert Legato explained how the larger-than-life ape — who only appears in the Disney version of “The Jungle Book” — was inspired by two things: Marlon Brando’s role of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” and an enormous extinct ape known as a Gigantopithecus that was indigenous to India, China, and Southeast Asia.
“We made him actually kind of [like] he’s Kurtz [from “Apocalypse Now”], and we’re going down the river in ‘Apocalypse Now,’ going to meet the mysterious character,” Legato explains to INSIDER, adding that they even lit the ape to mimic Marlon Brando’s character in “Apocalypse Now.”
In the classic film, during Brando’s iconic horror speech, the actor enters a dimly lit room, shrouded mostly in darkness.
Similarly, King Louie’s entrance is shrouded in darkness before unveiling his enormity on screen.
And while you may think Louie is an over-sized orangutan similar to his animated counterpart, Legato explains that’s not the case in the live-action version.
“Orangatans are not really indigenous to India,” he continues. “But the Gigantopithecus is a real thing apparently that died out, but lived there, so the choice was made if we’re gonna make him [Louie] into something, let’s make him something that’s indigenous to the landscape and take a little bit of liberty because he is a larger-than-life character anyway. He’s Colonel Kurtz. He’s the big mysterious guy.”
Legato says it was director Jon Favreau’s choice to just “go for it” with King Louie. The crew created something that wasn’t readily identifiable by audiences, but that was still based on the physical natural of an orangatan using as much research as they could find.
“Much like Francis Coppola did with Marlon Brando in ‘The Godfather,’ [we] made him a larger-than-life character and treated him that way,” Legato says.
The plan to make Louie larger than life didn’t happen overnight, though.
“I think it grew and evolved because a lot of the movie took more inspiration from the original story than the Disney version of it,” Legato says. “Yet, this portion of it was in the Disney version, which was a suspension of the story. He really couldn’t have been the same size as the rest of [the apes] in terms of his importance and magic in the story. So they just took a leap there. So some things are directly taken from the book and some things are directly taken from the movie and the movie became the melding of all those things. And I think it just becomes an artistic choice.”
“As soon as you wanted to have King Louie you want to make him more king-like or [realistic] and it starts to grow from there and then they start to justify it,” he adds.
Once the art director found the Gigantopithecus, which can be likened to an oversized orangutan, that seemed like the answer. Legato said the crew asked about doing something like that and the rest was history. The final King Louie stands 12 feet tall in the film.
“The Jungle Book” is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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