The Jungle Book 2
review by Gregory Avery, 14 February 2003

An amazing experience occurred when, on a whim, I went with some family members to see a re-release of The Jungle Book sometime during the second half of the 1980s. I had seen the picture when it first came out in theaters -- my family ALWAYS took us to see the new Disney picture -- and I'd listened to songs from the film on L.P.'s that were handed out at Gulf gas stations. These L.P.'s had been stored away for years, and I hadn't seen the film in years, but, seeing it again many years later, I was surprised to find myself remembering the lyrics of the songs, word for word, as the characters began performing them on-screen -- sometimes remembering the lyrics BEFORE they were even performed.

This is why some people took to ranting and raving over how all-pervasive Disney and his fodder had become in modern pop culture -- because the Disney characters and films really had become all-pervasive in modern pop culture. Nobody knew how to sell his product better than Uncle Walt, whether it was introducing his Sunday-night television show around which everyone gathered (some of which was good, some of which was The Horse Masters), or handing out those L.P.'s to customers at Gulf stations -- "Mommy! Daddy! I gotta have that record, oh, puh-leeze!" To which Mommy and Daddy would acquiesce, even if it meant ending up hearing it on the kid's record-player for days or weeks or months on end---and the last track of which would be Tommy Steele singing "Fortuosity" from The Happiest Millionaire, the new Disney picture that JUST HAPPENED to be about ready to come out in theaters. The design was perfect.

Happiest Millionaire was the last live-action picture which Walt Disney supervised before his death in 1966, and The Jungle Book was the last animated feature he oversaw, and the reason you're reading all this is because there really isn't very much to say about The Jungle Book 2, the sequel to the animated film which has arrived in theaters over twenty-five years after the first film's release. When Mowgli the man-cub, at the end of the 1967 film, made his decision to leave his friends, Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear, and go live with his own kind in the village, it seemed like a pretty good bet that he would stay there for good. It also seemed like a sensible, natural progression for a boy who was just about to enter into adolescence and, presumably, have man-cubs of his own some day. The new film picks up right where the last one left off, and it spends half of its running time trying to figure out how to get Mowgli back together with his animal friends. Despite the presence of Shanti, the young girl who was glimpsed just long enough at the end of the last film to catch Mowgli's eye, and who has now metamorphosed into a full-fledged character of her own, Mowgli still yearns to go back into the darkest wilds, and, eventually, the film pretty much picks him up by his britches and repels him right back in there, like Brer Rabbit flying into the briar patch, so that he can quickly reunite with Baloo and sing the first of many reprisals of "The Bare Necessities" (the song which, unbelievably and regardless of the levels of its own merits, lost out on the Oscar to "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Dolittle). This turns out to be just fine, since Baloo, rather than  being engaged in other bear-like activities, has been spending all his time mooning around over Mowgli. And Shanti, thinking that Baloo has captured Mowgli and is carrying him away, goes charging, warrior woman-style, after him. She's accompanied by Ranjan, one of those overactively mischievous tykes who require a muzzle and leash to be let-out in public.

Still, most of the picture is made up of bits and pieces that reprise characters and business from the last film. Or from other Disney films, like the musical number that looks like it's copied from "Be Our Guest" in Beauty and the Beast. The actors who provide the voices for the animal characters in the new film have been made to sound as closely as possible to the actors (Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, and J. Pat O'Malley) who voiced their counterparts in the 1967 film. That also goes for John Goodman, who does Baloo in the same raspy way that Phil Harris did. (Unfortunately, Goodman cannot sing like Phil Harris did, which makes a difference.) The only character who does not put in a reappearance is the orangutan King Louis, who was voiced and sung by the late, great jazzman Louis Prima -- although, not missing a trick, Prima's recording of "I Wanna Be Like You" has been given a hip-hop remix and is played over the closing credits for the new film.

While the village where Mowgli and Shanti live has been often beautifully rendered in shades of blue and jasmine, not even the way that Shere Khan the tiger has been drawn is as dramatic or scary as in the last film. (And Disney knew that you needed a little bit of menace in order to bring some spice to the proceedings.) And what a difference twenty-five years makes. Asked why he left the village during one of his conversations with Baloo, Mowgli simply replies, "Rules, rules, rules!" This is in spite of the fact that Mowgli hasn't been shown doing a lick of work or anything else in the film up until then. (And it's also an example of the jarringly anachronistic dialogue that the characters have been given to utter in the new picture.) And the film not only ends with the filmmakers keeping their options open, but also with the characters wanting to have things any way they want to, just as long as they have fun, fun, fun. In trying to have it any which way, the film ends up with nothing -- it's a soft, slack, lazy ending for a film whose makers seem to think it's being made for a soft, slack, lazy audience. Not, I think, something that Uncle Walt would have done.

Directed by:
Steve Trenbirth

Starring:
Haley Joel Osment
John Goodman
Mae Whitman
Connor Funk
Tony Jay
Jim Cummings
John Rhys-Davies
Phil Collins

Written by:
Karl Geurs

Rated:
G - General Audiences.
All ages admitted.

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