I don't know how many times The Jungle Book has been turned into a movie, but it's more than three. This Disney movie is based on the 1967 Disney cartoon (and has nothing to do with the bizarre 1994 version starring Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, who falls in love with Lena Headey, looking for treasure in Monkey City).
This is the most interesting, exciting, and smartest version of The Jungle Book, and it's one of the better movies of 2016 so far. Let's look at some reasons why.
This is a serious-ass movie
Don't be fooled because the animals talk. This is a full world with it's own mythology. There is danger, death, deception, and tragedy. It's a little scary. It's a family movie, but not for the youngest kids. Baloo the bear does provide some comic relief, but even that sometimes has an edge.
It's not really a remake of the cartoon
There are no scat-singing bears in coconut costumes here. The basic plot is the same as the Disney original: Mowgli the "man-cub" is a boy living with wolves, and Shere Khan is a tiger that wants to eat Mowgli, so Mowgli decides to go find some humans to live with. But the story departs from the cartoon in many key ways. Some scenes are changed, some are deleted, and there are some new plot elements. Let me say, Shere Khan is a bad-ass villain with a serious personal vendetta.
It's not a musical
Yeah, the animals talk, but they don't sing. Much. In a bit of blatant and unnecessary fanservice, two of the songs from the animated movie made it into this film, but they are a lot shorter. One of the songs is reinterpreted in a menacing way, which may upset some fans of the original.
It has a director that can balance fantasy and reality
Jon Favreau directed this movie. I always picture him in Swingers ("You're so money!") but it's important to note that he also directed Elf, Iron Man and Iron Man 2. He knows what he's doing behind the camera, and the movie is in good hands here.
Neel Sethi plays Mowgli. This is Sethi's first movie, and he's pretty amazing. His charisma and personality shine through, even though he's he's really acting by himself, since he's the only human in the whole damn movie and nothing else on the screen actually exists.
The special effects
This is the most photo-realistic CGI world I've seen. The animals move very realistically, the fur actually looks like fur (the animals look wet when it rains!). It's totally beautiful to watch.
[side note: I saw it in 3D, and while it's not totally necessary, it does help you get absorbed into the jungle. And the best 3D effect I've ever seen happens when the credits are almost over. I don't know why they saved it for when everybody has gone].
It actually has relevant lessons for kids
Without making obvious "morals" to the story, there are valuable lessons that kids can pick up from this film; Mowgli learns that some rules can be broken under certain conditions. He learns that the world is deceitful, and even your friends can use you. And he learns that your advantages are also your disadvantages.
There are elements aimed at adults, too
There are more mature themes in the film, too. There is a layer of myth that holds up the story; for example, there is a reference to the story of Prometheus, and the elephants have sacred roles as the Creators of the Jungle. There are issues of war and peace, strength and fear. Oh, and the introduction of King Louie is straight out of Apocalypse Now.
It's a timeless story that never really gets old
This is the archetypal Hero's Journey, a story told over thousands of years in thousands of ways. But the story still works, because it hits deep into the core of what it means to be human. This epic fable is a great way to tap into our common humanity - even if it's done by talking animals.