The Jungle Book -- the movie -- was great.
The Jungle Book -- the musical -- is better.
The easygoing brilliance of the 1967 animated version (really the last classic Disney film until the Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin renaissance of the '90s) is still apparent in the Huntington Theatre Company's live production that premiered at the Boston University Theatre Wednesday night.
It's just been brightened, jazzed up and blown out to spectacular levels, retaining the timeless story while rendering it as the next great blockbuster musical.
Everyone's there, from the excitable man-cub Mowgli (played with oodles of un-annoying cuteness by Akash Chopra, who alternates with Roni Akurati) to the bellowing bear named Baloo (Kevin Carolan, in a priceless, pitch-perfect performance). The marching elephant troupe still stomps around in 2/4 time, here dressed up like British redcoats wearing floppy ears.
Speaking of the costumes, they're not quite the elaborate contraptions you'll find in The Lion King, but they might be more inventive. The winding puppet of the wily snake Kaa (Thomas Derrah) sticks out the most, at one point being portrayed by a line of actors holding balls (or balloons -- couldn't really tell) and curling them around their bodies in the shape of the hypnotic serpent. Baloo's wiry contraption gives off the appearance of a jiggling belly without the weight.
And Mowgli? Well, he's just in his boxers.
It all takes place in a resplendent forest setting, beaming with green leaves and blue packing peanuts (that's the water!).
And who would want to leave such a rocking place? The extended versions "The Bare Necessities" and King Louie's rollicking "I Wanna Be Like You" -- both featuring live musicians on stage -- stack up with any big Broadway musical number you can imagine.
Those two close out the first act, so the second act -- filled with new, unfamiliar songs -- sometimes feels like a musical letdown. One of them is the bizarre solo song by the bizarre villain Shere Kahn (Larry Yando), who's not terrifying so much as he is pretentious.
But you'll be humming the rest of the songs for the next week.
Catch The Jungle Book while you can. It seems poised for bigger things.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.