**1/2 stars (out of four)
On a visual level, director Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man, Chef) adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a marvel. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) seamlessly interacts with a cast of CGI animals in a way that feels believable and real, even though you know you’re watching special effects. It’s a rich, immersive environment.
But on a story level, the main beats will seem awfully familiar to anyone who has seen The Lion King. Mowgli is raised by wolves (the mother’s voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and a protective panther (voiced by Ben Kinglsey). But, he has to fend for himself after the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens his life (and the lives of any animal seen with him). During his exile, he befriends Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) and a few other misfit animals before realizing he must return to defend his home and those he loves.
Kids will likely enjoy this, and despite a few scary scenes, it should be fun for children. For parents, it’ll be painless, but it’s not the all-ages triumph Disney scored with Zootopia last month. There’s no relationship here that’s as compelling and affecting as that of Nick and Judy in Zootopia. A duet of Mowgli and Baloo singing “Bare Necessities” is fun, but a second musical number late in the film feels out of place.
Movie trivia: This is not the first live-action remake of The Jungle Book. In 1994, director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) made a film featuring Mowgli as a young man fighting Shere Khan and dastardly British colonialists. The ’94 film is entertaining enough, but while the ’16 film owes debts to The Lion King, the ’94 version borrows from Tarzan and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The two remakes are completely different.