One of the loveliest parts of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is the world it creates. In it, a young boy can survive in the jungle and learn from the animals who raise him, or a mongoose can protect an entire family from some slithering cobras. It's a world of lessons and moralities, but also adventure and daring. One in which a bear can be the best friend of a boy, and a panther can become a surrogate dad.

Director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man) has done a marvelous job re-creating that world in his live-action/CGI adaptation.

Mowgli (newcomer Neeli Sethi, who spends the entire movie acting opposite CGI characters) is adopted by the panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) after the boy's father dies. Bagheera takes him to the wolves and helps raise Mowgli, teaching him the rules of the jungle in ways that reflect the human world we live in - stick with the pack, don't play with fire.

But when the evil tiger Shere Khan (a menacing Idris Elba) discovers Mowgli, the tiger vows to kill the little man-cub. So Bagheera sets out to take Mowgli back to the man-village.

Joining Mowgli along the way is the sloth bear, Baloo - played by Bill Murray, whose voice and general persona exude the character's credo: that life should be full of everyday pleasures and little else. He even gets to sing Baloo's famed theme song, "The Bare Necessities," originally sung by Phil Harris.

It's an interesting choice for Favreau to call back to the Disney version. He does it again when Christopher Walken takes over for Louis Prima as the giant ape King Louie to sing "I Wan'na Be Like You."

At first, this was jarring, taking me out of the world that Favreau has constructed. But the music adds a necessary levity, especially since Favreau does not shy away from the dark parts of the jungle. Characters fight and die, which didn't seem to bother children in the theater as much as I thought it would.

The reason to go see Favreau's The Jungle Book, instead of just watching the animated one with your cubs, is how gorgeous the jungle looks. The temple that King Louie calls his kingdom is breathtaking, and it seems as if every hair of Shere Khan's fur moves as he stalks.

It's the living jungle of Kipling's stories that we could once see only in our minds.

meichel@phillynews.com
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The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau. With Neeli Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong'o. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Running time: 105 mins.
Parents guide: PG (sequences of scary action and peril).
Playing at: Area theaters.