The filmmaker brought in one of the Hollywood legend's musical collaborators to help conjure authentic Disney magic

By Scott Huver
Updated April 05, 2016 11:35 AM
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When Jon Favreau signed on to direct the upcoming The Jungle Book film, he knew he had big shoes to fill. Not only was he remaking one of Disney’s most classic tales, but he wanted honor the original film while still giving it a new feel.

“I wanted to make sure that if you love the old movie, and you saw this one, you felt that we’re building on that legacy, and not trying to reinvent it completely,” Favreau told PEOPLE at the film’s premiere on Monday night in Los Angeles. “But I wanted to change it enough that it felt like it was a fresh take, and there were some surprises in there as well.”

One of the most important aspects of making the film was staying true to the family spirit and playful sense of showmanship Walt Disney created in the 1967 animated film.

“I think Walt Disney was a wonderful showman,” Favreau explained. “He understood technology and he was a great storyteller. I think he understood that we really like to seek out experiences.”

And while the director is the first to admit there’s some pressure that comes with remaking The Jungle Book, he said he’s honored to be part of the Disney legacy.

“This movie is one that I grew up with, and being entrusted with taking this title and bringing it 50 years later into the new age using new technology is flattering and daunting, but ultimately very satisfying and fun,” he said.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba as modern versions of the beloved characters, along with 12-year-old newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli.

As Favreau modernized Disney’s take on the classic Rudyard Kipling stories and included nods to its memorable assortment of songs, he couldn’t resist tapping the talents of one of the 1967 film’s most vital collaborators: composer Richard M. Sherman – who with his late brother Robert wrote most of the original movie’s tunes.

When it came time to rewrite some of the songs to fit the plot of the new film, Favreau said Sherman was certainly up for the challenge.

“Richard even wrote some new lyrics for this because we have a different take on the King Louie character,” said Favreau. “I mentioned to him that it’s no longer an orangutan, it’s a gigantopithecus, and it has a different plot point, and he wrote new verses for the film.”

“I said, ‘Can I use that word, gigantopithecus?’ ” Sherman told PEOPLE. “He says, ‘Can you?’ ‘I’d like to try that.’ So I wrote some special new lyrics for the song, and it fits right into the new telling.”

Sherman even joined Favreau in the recording studio to watch some of new film’s stars sing up-to-date renditions of the songs he created. “Now we have Scarlett Johansson as the snake – she’s wonderful,” said Sherman.

Favreau said working with Sherman was definitely one of the high points of making the film.

“That was a real treat, getting a classic fixture of Disney’s legacy to contribute to this,” said Favreau. “He’s a great guy, and so excited and enthusiastic. He always makes me smile whenever I see him.”

The Jungle Book hits theaters April 15.