Neel Sethi likes watching “Friends.” He’s 10 years old. Speaking as someone who used to watch “The Newlywed Game” when he was five and had zero idea that “Three’s Company,” one of his most-watched shows, was lousy with risque jokes, this isn’t too weird. Sethi feels the same way.
Is it over his head? “A little bit,” Sethi replies. “But it’s still really funny.”
One would assume director Jon Favreau’s new, effects-heavy film of “The Jungle Book” would be more his speed. Truth is, he didn’t even see the 1967 Disney film until he was offered a role in their super-sized new version. Sethi takes on the storied role of Mowgli, the orphan boy hero of Rudyard Kipling’s stories and the many films made from them, whose only companions are talking animals.
In this case, Sethi’s Mowgli is friends with state-of-the-art CGI creations voiced by celebrities. Ben Kingsley voices the paternal black panther Bagheera, Scarlett Johansson is the sneaky snake Kaa and Idris Elba his arch-nemesis: the murderous Shere Khan. And Bill Murray is very Bill Murray as Baloo, the carefree bear that becomes his new best friend.
Sethi mostly acted with people in motion-capture suits, interacting with a “SimulCam” that showed early but vivid versions of the animals. Technology made it a little easier to suspend his imagination.
“It would show a bear or another animal instead of a person,” Sethi recalls. “It looked like I was talking to a normal bear.”
He did get to meet some of the famous people he was acting with later on. “I went to Martha’s Vineyard and played football with Bill Murray while Jon Favreau made a brisket,” he says. “We just played football and ate lobster rolls.”