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Toon Talk: The Jungle Book 2
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
The Jungle Book 2
Widely known as the last animated feature with Walt Disney's â€˜personal touch', and hugely successful in its various theatrical and video releases, The Jungle Book is justly considered a perennial family favorite. And, like its fellow Sixties-era hit 101 Dalmatians, it has also proven to be quite the inspiration for further incarnations: with a live action remake (Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, starring Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli), not one but two television series (the lively Tale Spin and the Muppet Baby-ish Jungle Cubs) and even its own theme park show (the underrated, short-lived Journey Into Jungle Book at Disney's Animal Kingdom).
So its not much of a shocker that, with its generations-spanning popularity, a sequel would have eventually been made. After all, Walt infamously tossed out most of the original book while making the first film, so there was plenty of material to fall back on for ideas and, love 'em or hate 'em, the direct to video sequels do rake in the cash. But, thanks to the unexpected box office success of last year's Peter Pan follow-up Return to Neverland, the big surprise is that The Jungle Book 2, originally intended as another video quickie, has, in all its priced to sell at Wal-Mart â€˜glory', been granted a full-fledged theatrical release. And to add insult to some already painful injuries, the storyline ignores the rich source material of Kipling, settling instead for its own insipid retread of themes already addressed and resolved in the classic original.
Taking place shortly after the events of The Jungle Book, 2 finds Mowgli (voiced by Hayley Joel Osment, who, after this film and last year's shoddy double feature of The Country Bears and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, really should steer clear from voice work for awhile) settling into the man village with a new family and friends (including Shanti, the coquettish flirt of "I must go to fetch the waterâ€? fame, here voiced by Mae Whitman and updated to a more Mulan-like role model for the all the modern day little girls in the audience); but, as his foster father (John Rhys-Davies, wasted in a thankless role) actually states, "you can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the boyâ€?.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Mowgli's â€˜papa bear' Baloo (John Goodman, trying valiantly, but ultimately in vain, to take over for the late, great Phil Harris) is knee-deep in post â€˜man cub' withdrawals, so stuffy panther Bagheera (Bob Joles, a remarkable sound alike for Sebastian Cabot) enlists Colonel Hathi (Jim Cummings, natch) and his pachyderm parade to thwart the bear's plans to â€˜rescue' the boy from the world of man.
As is expected, Baloo does just that, snatching the boy back into his jazzy jungle, but with some unexpected pursuers: Shanti (with rugrat Ranjan, voiced by newcomer Connor Funk, in tow), who is inexplicably out to â€˜save' Mowgli from the jungle he has lived in his whole life, as well as the menacing Shere Khan (Disney villain fave Tony Jay), seeking revenge against the man-cub for his humiliation by fire at the climax of the last film.
Along the way, we meet up with characters both old (Kaa the Python, voiced by Cummings as well, double natch), new (Phil Collins' smack-talking Lucky, making it now a quintet of Liverpoolian vultures) and absent (thanks to the Widow Prima, King Louie has left the building); and there are the requisite musical numbers, including the swingy "Under the Seaâ€? wanabee "W-I-L-Dâ€? and an unwise reprise of "The Bare Necessitiesâ€? (yeah, that's the way to avoid comparisons to the original, remake one of its signature moments ... ).
The original Jungle Book, produced during the time of Walt's failing health and untimely death, was a triumph of character animation. Possibly inspired by a desire to make their boss proud one last time, such legendary animators as Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson and Milt Kahl were at the top of their game with this production, bringing the essence of Disney animation (characters with personality) to life in this film. Sure, Disney's first â€˜all-star' voice cast (Harris, Cabot, George Sanders, et al), added a lot to this, but it was the creative and imaginative, yet still realistic and believable, actions and acting of these characters that made this film such an artistic, and ultimately popular, success.
I mention this because The Jungle Book 2 shows absolutely none of this artistry. Uninteresting backgrounds, uninspired layouts, and some of the sloppiest, downright pathetic character animation, under the name Disney or otherwise, ever seen on the big screen. It, like so many of these other sequels, are insults to the creators of the originals. The credits of the film acknowledge that "this film would not have been possible without the inspiration from the original motion picture and the work of its talented artists and animatorsâ€?. You're telling me ... a more fitting tribute would have been to leave well enough alone ... by leaving this chapter of The Jungle Book on the shelf.
Toon Talk Rating: D+