RUDYARD KIPLING'S THE JUNGLE BOOK- * * - Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes, Lena Headey, Sam Neill, John Cleese; rated PG (violence); OPENS SUNDAY, CHRISTMAS DAY, at Carmike Cottonwood Mall and Plaza 5400 Theaters, Cineplex Odeon Crossroads Plaza and South Towne Center Cinemas, the Gateway 6 Cinemas, the Reel Theaters.

The latest adaptation of "Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" (the title is apparently in keeping with Hollywood's new literaryspeak titles, as in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein") is a new version of the famous tale of a boy raised in the jungles of India by wolves.And though this one comes from Walt Disney Pictures, there's no confusing it with the popular, song-filled 1967 animated feature, which was much more fun. (Or, for that matter, the very good 1942 live-action version starring Sabu, also available on video.)

The film opens around the turn of the century with British Major Brydon (Sam Neill) and his young daughter Kitty traveling through the wilds of India, accompanied by Dr. Plumford (John Cleese) and young Mowgli, among others. When the dreaded tiger Shere Khan attacks their camp, Mowgli becomes lost in the jungle and is thought to be dead. But he is actually taken in by some new animal friends - the wolf Grey Brother, a bear named Baloo and Bagheera, a black panther.

The film then jumps forward in time and we see Mowgli as a young adult (Jason Scott Lee). He has developed a rapport with the animals and embarks on an adventure in "Monkey City," where he finds mountains of hidden treasure - daggers, jewels, gold coins - guarded by an evil python named Kaa. "Monkey City" is ruled by a baboon named King Louis, and Mowgli finds he must prove himself by taking on Kaa, with a jewel-encrusted dagger as his reward.

A short time later, Mowgli meets Kitty again, whose father is now the colonel in charge of British troops in the area. Mowgli follows Kitty to the fort, where he is captured by the jealous Capt. Boone (Cary Elwes). When Boone finds the dagger, he tries to force Mowgli to take him to "Monkey City" and the hidden treasure. But Kitty gets Mowgli out of the stockade, teaches him English and attempts to "civilize" him.

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It's not hard to see where all this is headed, of course, and there are some amusing bits of business along the way. It's fun to see Cleese and Neill hamming it up in their respective roles, both somewhat comic-relief in nature. But Elwes is really over the top as the villain of the piece (maybe he still thinks he's working for Mel Brooks in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights").

Lee ("Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," "Map of the Human Heart") as Mowgli is required throughout much of the movie to convey his emotions and reactions without dialogue, and he seems up to the task, but director/co-writer Stephen Sommers ("Gunman," "The Adventures of Huck Finn") has Lee playing the role so broadly that it often just seems like so much mugging. Sommers would have done better if he had spent more time on character development (including some of the animal characters) and less on turning Mowgli into Indiana Jones. In some ways, this is as cartoony as the '67 version.

And if it is truly aimed at children, as appears to be the case, Sommers should have toned down the violence - it gets pretty rough for the under 8 set.

"Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" is rated PG for violence.

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