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Review: Disney's 'The Jungle Book' – What parents should know

Following the trend of releasing live action films based on classic animated movies, Disney’s latest offering is “The Jungle Book,” based on the beloved 1967 animated film of the same name.

Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), this new tale blends live action and CGI, bringing a wide collection of animals to life amidst a beautiful landscape set in the jungles of India. In fact, essentially the only human actor in the cast is Neel Sethi, who was only 10 at the time of filming. This kid does an amazing job in his role, but more on that later.

Sethi plays Mowgli, a human orphan boy rescued as a toddler by a noble black panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). Bagheera entrusts a loyal wolf pack with Mowgli’s upbringing, and Mowgli — now a young boy — struggles to accept that he is different from his wolf brothers and sisters. His loving wolf mother, Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o), is fiercely protective of her man-cub when Shere Khan, a villainous tiger, demands Mowgli’s exile or death. Mowgli will soon grow into a human man and endanger all of the jungle’s animals, he argues. Bagheera resumes responsibility for his human son and sets upon a journey with Mowgli to return him to his original home. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the two to get separated, and Mowgli meets and befriends the bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray). Neither does Shere Khan give up his pursuit of the child easily, leading Mowgli and his friends on one harrowing adventure after another.

Although it differs from the animated classic on which it is based, “The Jungle Book” also includes a couple of that film’s memorable musical numbers. Baloo adds some light-hearted humor to the tale, and Murray's take on the character will make you smile. Sethi does an outstanding job as Mowgli, convincing audiences that he’s actually talking to and interacting with majestic animals in the wild. Seriously, I was so impressed by this young actor. The story also does an excellent job of giving the animals significant depth as characters and delivering some good messages about family, courage and showing respect for others.

Parents should be warned, however, that elements of this version of “The Jungle Book” harken back to the book by Rudyard Kipling, which is sometimes darker, moodier, and more dramatic than the beloved Disney animated classic. Shere Khan comes across as a lot more sinister and threatens to kill Mowgli numerous times. There are also violent and lifelike confrontations between some of the animals that occasionally lead to death. Very young and sensitive children might get scared or startled because of this. Keep in mind that the film is rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril, and I'd recommend using caution with kids 8 and younger. At least there’s no bad language or sexual scenes to worry about.

Overall, “The Jungle Book” is an excellent family film that combines drama, fantasy, comedy and adventure into a fun viewing experience for all ages.

Disney's “The Jungle Book” is now playing in theaters nationwide.