Mowgli (Neel Sethi) may not think of himself as an animal, but he definitely doesn’t identify as human. Raised by wolves, he enjoys running through the jungle with the pack. Sometimes, he’ll do something a wolf can’t — such as climbing a tree — but that’s only in the spirit of gaining a competitive advantage.
It’s left to Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), a panther who serves as Mowgli’s mentor, to remind him that he’s a little boy — and that the jungle is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for him to live. That’s largely due to one animal who can barely tolerate Mowgli’s presence: a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing every creature who crosses his path.
Mowgli is reluctant to give up his life among the wolves, but he has no interest in winding up as Shere Khan’s dinner. So the wild child embarks on a journey during which he’ll encounter smooth-talking python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), honey-loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and megalomaniacal ape King Louie (Christopher Walken).
But no matter where Mowgli goes, the threat of Shere Khan remains. A confrontation with the tiger is only a matter of time.
“The Jungle Book” entertainingly updates the adventures of Mowgli — who was created by Rudyard Kipling and was also the focus of a 1967 animated film of the same name — for a contemporary audience. This 3-D retelling is like a storybook come to life, enhanced by the vivid photorealism of the computer-generated imagery.
Working from a screenplay by Justin Marks, director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) has a sure feel for what’s required, and in Sethi he has a young actor who’s engaging without being cutesy. The vocal performances are spot-on, with Murray a standout as the slyly manipulative but ultimately courageous Baloo.
With its combination of state-of-the-art technology and old-school charm, “The Jungle Book” should thrill children and adults alike.
What “The Jungle Book” • Three stars out of four • Run time 1:45 • Rating PG • Content Sequences of scary action and peril