Friday, February 28, 2003
The Jungle Book 2 / *1/2 (2003)
Most of the studio's previous animated sequels, even those that have managed to find their ways into multiplexes, at least have some kind of quality example to follow in the footsteps of, but the original "Jungle Book," the last to be completed during Walt Disney's lifespan, was a generally uneven endeavor that lacked almost all sense of impression. Here lies the first problem, as this film foolishly makes the assumption that we care enough about characters like Baloo the bear and Mowgli the man cub to watch them interact for a little while longer, even if it means that they do nothing but sing and dance during their 75-minute jungle reunion. During one scene, Kaa the snake, the story's most interesting supporting player, throws his head back and says, "I so despise these song and dance routines." Once you sit through the whole mess, you understand exactly how he feels.
The film opens exactly where its predecessor left off, perhaps almost too soon. Here, Mowgli is still living in the man village beyond the wild areas, thanks in part to the beautiful Shanti, a girl whose captivating eyes and sweet face lured him away from his original jungle companions at the end of the previous movie. The man cub enjoys being around other humans greatly (the older man who has acted as a parent even hopes to have him call him dad one day), but he still misses the pleasures of jungle life, namely Balloo, the giant grey bear who refuses to stay away despite warnings from others about the dangers of mixing men and wild animals. The other humans occupy the notion that creatures like panthers and bears can spell certain death for anyone who wanders beyond the man borders, while the animals themselves--and to a degree, even Mowgli--know the only real danger there lies in Shere Khan, the ferocious tiger who is seeking revenge against the man cub.
The movie tosses all of this stuff at us without any sort of devotion or justification. There's a big game of cat-and-mouse that leads Mowgli to flee for his life, a happy reunion with familiar faces, an interlude featuring the tiger and a series of retro vultures, a scene where Shanti and a little kid get lost when they go in search of him, and a scene where the villain finally confronts the hero. In between these points are lots of musical numbers: long, drawn out, uninspired and bland periods of singing and dancing that give the filmmakers an excuse to try and be flashy with their restricted sense of perspective (think of the direct-to-video style of animation and drop it down a notch). "The Bare Necessities," the most widely-known tune from the original movie, makes a return this time around and then goes for a series of encore performances, and the closing credits even feature another older song, badly updated by the band Smash Mouth.
I'm not one to dislike feature Disney cartoons--in fact, theatrically, the lowest score I have ever given one is two-and-a-half stars--but when one speaks to me on such an amateurish, irrelevant and insufferable level, certain traditions have to be broken. "The Jungle Book 2" makes last year's "Return to Neverland" look almost brilliant in comparison, and if Rudyard Kipling was alive to see his famous story stretched like this, he would have been the first person encouraging potential viewers to avoid it at all costs.
Written by DAVID KEYES
Cast & Crew info:
Phil Collins: Lucky the Vulture
Jim Cummings: Col. Hathi
John Goodman: Baloo
Tony Jay: Shere Khan
Bob Joles: Bagheera
Haley Joel Osment: Mowgli
Produced by Christopher Chase and Mary Thorne; Directed by Steve Trenbirth; Screenwritten by Karl Geurs
Children's/Animated (US); Rated G; Running Time - 75 Minutes