Movies like "The Jungle Book 2" remind me why I don't care much for cartoons.
The original 1967 "Jungle Book" was a minor Disney animated-musical classic, the last film personally supervised by Uncle Walt, and featured the remarkable voice talents of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, and J. Pat O'Malley, among others. It's understandable the Disney studios would want to capitalize on the popularity of that earlier entry with a sequel. Why they waited so long is a mystery and why the sequel's so dull is a shame.
The 2003 theatrical release "Jungle Book 2" is a continuation of the first movie, taking over a few days after the first one left off. The characters and settings as much as possible duplicate the earlier ones, but they have a cleaner, deeper, more improved graphic look. The new voices are also carefully chosen to remind one of the old film. Too bad nobody thought to provide the new movie with anything fresh in the way of a plot or music.
In fact, the new film is so bereft of musical inspiration, it has to reprise the old movie's "Bare Necessities" song fully three times! This isn't a bad idea; it's a great little tune. But the rest of the film suffers mightily by comparison.
You may remember in the first movie that the human baby Mowgli was reared by wolves in the Indian jungles, then befriended by a lovable bear named Baloo, a panther named Bagheera, and various other rain-forest critters, and eventually threatened by a villainous tiger named Shere Khan. Mowgli was finally adopted by a human family and brought to live in a village, not without resistance, and there met a girl. Well, the continuation takes up with Mowgli in the village, still longing for the jungle, with Baloo and Bagheera trying to lure him back. Baloo says he misses his old singing partner. And wouldn't you know it, Shere Khan resumes lurking about trying to get even for Mowgli's humiliating him earlier. In other words, "The Jungle Book 2" is "The Jungle Book" all over again. Amazingly, the credits for the new production list seven different writers responsible for turning out so very little. I'm not entirely sure Mr. Kipling would have approved of either Disney animated version of his book.
Old and new characters are voiced by new actors this time around, none of them quite coming up to the level of the originals. Mowgli is now voiced by the ubiquitous Haley Joel Osment, who seems to be in every picture about young boys these days. Like most of the actors in the film, he was apparently told not to be overly demonstrative and comes across as pedestrian--a sweet, universal child. The actor playing Baloo had an even bigger voice to fill, that of the effervescent Phil Harris. The choice went to another ubiquitous fellow in animations of late, John Goodman. He doesn't so much sing his songs as growl them out, which in the case of a big, affectionate old bear isn't far off the mark.
Perhaps the best new voice, though, is Tony Jay's for the tiger, Shere Khan. It captures the same mellifluently menacing tone so well brought out by George Sanders in the original. Among others, we find Mae Whitman as the girl, Shanti; Connor Funk as Ranjan, Mowgli's little friend and adopted brother; John Rhys-Davies as Mowgli's foster father; Bob Joles as Bagheera, the panther; and Phil Collins as Lucky, the vulture. The adolescent voices in particular sound bland to me, overly sweet and vaguely phony.
Of the musical numbers, I already mentioned that "Bare Necessities" is carried over from the earlier film and repeated three times. So is "I Wan'na Be Like You" reprised from the first film, only this time it's used as the closing credits tune and sung by the rock group Smash Mouth. Additional numbers include "Jungle Rhythm," "W-I-L-D," "Colonel Hathi's March," and "Right Where I Belong." If it weren't for "Jungle Rhythm" and especially "W-I-L-D," a big-band pop-jazz extravaganza performed at an outdoor, jungle night club, there wouldn't be much of anything to recommend about the new film.
Final points: Mowgli was raised in the jungle, and his new village is surrounded on all asides by jungle, yet his adoptive parents won't allow him to go into the trees. Seems a little unfair. Besides, don't they know that if Mowgli doesn't return to the jungle, we won't have a movie? Nothing much of interest happens in any case. The only conflicts are the anticipated ones with Shere Khan and Mowgli's wondering if, once he's left the village, he should remain with his animal friends or return to his human family. It's a pretty dull affair.
The picture is presented in what the Disney folks call on the keep case a "family-friendly" 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, but which actually measures out at a 1.74:1 ratio across a normal television. Apparently, no one at the studio took a tape measure to it, or they would have been surprised by its additional width, coming dangerously close to the film's theatrical distribution ratio of 1.85:1 and decidedly family unfriendly. I guess they figure audiences can tolerate a widescreen picture in the movie theater but not in the home and that all viewers are annoyed by the black areas at the top and bottom of their TV screens during a widescreen showing. You'd think by now Disney would have outgrown this childishness, but it's a studio that keeps children in mind at all times, for good and for bad.
Moving along, the picture is not only in anamorphic widescreen, it's fabulously clean and clear. The image is bright, the colors are positively glowing, and there are practically no moiré effects or grain to be found anywhere. The background art work is rich and lush in contrast and hue, but it is mostly static; that is, the backgrounds don't show much movement. Not even the water in rivers and streams show much of a ripple, nor do leaves in the jungle vibrate to any degree. It removes a touch of realism from the proceedings, but it doesn't make the movie any the less beautiful to look at. Although it is probably easier to transfer cartoon figures and art work to the screen than it does to capture the infinitely more minute gradations of human faces and real-life scenery, I can't fault this animation transfer in any way.
The 5.1 rear-channel audio wins the day here. It's terrific, enveloping the listener in the jungle noises and creature sounds. There is good musical ambience reinforcement, too, the sound of a gong reverberating all around the room with no "holes" between the various sets of speakers. Front-channel sound is wide in expanse and natural in balance, but there is a relatively constricted deep bass and an adequate but limited dynamic range.
As usual with a Disney DVD these days, at start-up the program automatically loads a trailer for another Disney feature, and as of late there isn't even a message telling the viewer how to bypass it and get on to the main menu. Since Disney films are primarily meant for kids, this seems a pretty sneaky way to exploit them. In any case, if you just press "Menu" on the remote, you'll get past the trailers. I might add, too, there's no booklet insert included, just a couple of Disney promotional ads. You'd think the Disney folks were getting more commercial than ever on us. Well, how do you think the rich get richer?
The bonus materials are mainly rehashes of things already in the film, but three items may be of interest: two deleted scenes with filmmaker introductions, a "Mowgli's Jungle Ruins" maze game, and a thirteen-minute "Legacy of Jungle Book" featurette. They may be in themselves at least as entertaining as the film. Then there's a recap of the original movie that helps brings viewers up to date on what's going on. The rest is stuff from within the film: three music videos--"I Wan'na Be Like You" by Smash Mouth, "W-I-L-D," and "Jungle Rhythm"--plus a Disney song selection and a sing-along track. There are also some Sneak Peeks at additional Disney titles and sixteen scene selections. English and French are provided as spoken languages, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
My Entertainment Rating is based on an adult's point of view. While it's true the film may appeal to younger children and in that case merit a higher rating, I figure most of you out there are old enough to want something a little more imaginative and innovative than this homogenized continuation of an old, well-worn story.
"The Jungle Book 2" looks much more like one of Disney's direct-to-video sequels than the major theatrical release it was. Maybe they figured so much time had gone by between the first and second movies that younger people would not have had the built-in familiarity with the title to trust its going straight to the home. Or maybe the studio had too much money invested in the project not to open it in theaters. I don't know. In any case, what we've got is a pale imitation of the original that mainly updates the graphics without adding any new wrinkles to the story or characters. It is a major disappointment, to say the least.