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Stars step out for Jungle Book premiere

Press AssociationPress Association 5/04/2016 David Mercer

It would have been "odd" not to feature prominent female characters in The Jungle Book, according to director Jon Favreau.

Favreau joined Oscar winners Sir Ben Kingsley and Lupita Nyong'o on a jungle-themed red carpet at El Capitan theatre in Los Angeles for the movie's world premiere.

Based on Rudyard Kipling's famous book and inspired by Disney's 1967 film, The Jungle Book uses live action and computer-generated animation to tell the story of Mowgli, a boy raised by a family of wolves, who is hunted by battle-scarred tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba.

Favreau said he turned to Scarlett Johansson to provide the voice of hypnotic snake Kaa, and the film includes a high-profile role for the character Raksha, a female wolf voiced by Oscar-winning actress Nyong'o.

"Times are different now. It seems odd to have all-male characters. In the '67 film, it was an all-male cast.

"In Kipling's (book), there was a prominent character we really played up called Raksha. She really is the heart and soul of the central relationship with Mowgli.

"And then we changed Kaa the snake to be Scarlett Johansson who has an incredibly warm, wonderful, compelling, dramatic voice, and I think it helped balance it out and feel more of our time."

Twelve-year-old Neel Sethi, who stars as Mowgli, is appearing in his first film after beating more than 2,000 other children to the role.

Sir Ben voices Bagheera the panther, while free-spirited bear Baloo is played by Bill Murray and Christopher Walken stars as giant ape King Louie.

The actor said he believed Kipling's book, set at the time of the British empire's rule of India, will "stand the test of time".

"Any book written for the young reader, especially by Kipling, has in it that preparation for life. You are preparing the young reader for the real world out there.

"The scaffolding of the book is the British empire... but it will stand the test of time because it's true at its heart."

* The Jungle Book is released in Australian cinemas on April

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