Here's about as convincing an argument as I can imagine for the existence of the modern Hollywood blockbuster. Disney and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book reinvigorates an oft-told tale with star power, technology and calculated charm. The story itself isn't too dramatically different from the familiar Disney animated film. Our hero Mowgli (Neel Sethi, delightfully vivacious and chatty) is a young boy who's been raised by a family of wolves ever since the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) found him abandoned in the woods. Living as a wolf isn't easy: Mowgli grows up slowly, can't resist the temptation to use tools and has to make into instinct the things that wolves just know, like never to stray from the pack. Togetherness is the wolves' mantra, and Bagheera's voice-over tells us, "If he was going to survive, he was going to need a people -- a people to protect him." That's not people, but a people. Superheroes be damned, this is a communitarian blockbuster.
Mowgli runs into Kaa the python (Scarlett Johansson), Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) and King Louie (Christopher Walken), an orangutan lording over a small army of monkeys. In keeping with the spirit of Kipling, the structure is largely episodic. That choice could result in tedium onscreen, but it works here, giving us ample opportunity to luxuriate in the cast's star personas — Walken and Murray get songs. But the true wonder of The Jungle Book lies in what might be called its very blockbuster-ness — the way it fully immerses us in this world, utilizing state-of-the-art effects (the talking, emoting animals look amazing and real) and juggling levity, menace and sweep.