The voices aren’t the same. The animation has lost that classic charm. The story is completely contrived. What remains is a dim reflection of a few beloved characters from a bygone year of vintage Disney magic. This sequel of the classic Disney telling of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book looks more like a direct to video knockoff. I was actually quite amazed to note the film did have a box office run.
Animation was one of the most important elements of the original Jungle Book. It was the smooth and stylish movements of the characters that first captured your attention. Then it has to be the voices. The voice cast of the original Jungle Book film were priceless. Here the film takes many common modern shortcuts, and movement is nowhere near so fluid. The whole thing has a rather generic feel to it, as if it could have easily been a modestly budgeted Saturday morning television cartoon.
I’ll have to give the new film some props for doing a better than average job of reproducing those original voices. There was an obvious attempt to stay true to the first cast. John Goodman is no Phil Harris, but he does a reasonably fine job of conveying the carefree nature of Baloo. One of the first things I noticed about lovable Baloo is that now he’s blue, in more ways than one. Naturally he’s a little down and missing Mowgli, but what I mean is that he’s actually blue in color. Haley Joel Osment is actually quite an accomplished actor for his young age. He brings an element to Mowgli that might have actually been missing in the original. His performance marks the only place this film surpasses the original. Jim Cummings is not a bad choice for Kaa, as the original was voiced by the lovable Sterling Holloway who did voiced the original. Cummings also replaced Holloway as Pooh over the years and does a remarkable job of reproducing the late actor’s voice. Actually, all of the original characters are back, with the rather notable exception of King Louie. There is the addition of a new dimwitted vulture who joins the fab four from before. He’s voiced by Phil Collins and provides a bit of comedy relief.
The final element of comparison with the original has to be the music. Who can forget King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You” or “The Bear Necessities”? It’s no mystery to the new crew as they do the latter song three times here. The Louie number doesn’t appear in the new film, but ends up in the DVD extras. The new songs are quite ordinary and recall none of the magic of the classics. While they aren’t awful by any means, they are instantly forgettable.
The film begins 5 days from the end of the original. Mowgli is living with Shanti’s family in the man village. He’s surrounded by new friends and a loving family, but his heart is still out in the jungle. He tries to convince his new friends that the jungle is fun and safe, much to the chagrin of his adopted father. Meanwhile Baloo is suffering as well. He misses Mowgli something terrible and decides to sneak into the man village to visit with his old friend. Baloo scares the villagers, and before you know it he and Mowgli have high tailed it out of Dodge. Shanti and little brother Romjin think Mowgli’s been kidnapped and set out to “rescue” him. Once back in the jungle Mowgli realizes not everything is fun and games, and Shere Kahn is still holding a grudge. When the humans finally do come together they face Shere Kahn, and Mowgli finally understands that his place is in the man village with other humans who care very much for him. If all of this is sounding a bit too contrived, it is. The story has almost none of the charm of the original. The conflicts are there merely to advance to the next scene in a silly string of events accomplishing the ultimate goal of coming to the conclusion of the film.
The Jungle Book 2 is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This transfer is the exact version used in the 2003 DVD release of this animated film. That’s not really a bad thing. I just thought I’d mention it in case you were expecting an upgrade. The color on the film really does pop. I was distracted by an unfortunate artistic decision to use a very blue hue at times. When the film is not utilizing this overdone process, the greens of the jungle come alive in wonderful contrast to such eye catching elements such as the bright orange of Shere Kahn. Black levels aren’t so wonderful. They are hindered by the tinting and lack any kind of true detail. The print suffers no artifacting or defects that I could see. Everything is nice and sharp. Too bad the animation is not as sweet.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS versions of the sound appear to be identical. I didn’t even notice the minimal higher LFE levels with DTS here. Perhaps the reason can be found in the fact that there is little of anything dynamic in the film by way of sound. There’s not much separation, not even during the busy musical numbers. I’m not exactly sure why, but the mix resists using surrounds except on a handful of rare occasions. You can hear everything with crystal clarity, and some of the music has a sweet tight production sound. It just all happens directly in front of you for the most part.
First off I should mention something I found very annoying. The Jungle Book 2 continues with a feature Disney calls Fast Play. It’s advertised as the answer to those drawn out load up screens and various ads that often take several minutes to get to the actual material. Material you paid for by the way. Don’t you believe it. Fast Play takes longer than most average DVD’s to get to where you want. They promise you fast access directly to your movie and “select features”. Those “select features” are trailers. Also Disney’s irritating DVD start up piece is getting on my nerves. If I have to listen to Johnny Depp tell me “We have our heading” just one more time…
Deleted Scene: There are two deleted songs featured here. They are presented through the use of storyboards and an explanation by the film’s musical coordinators. The first is called “I Got You Beat,” and while it has a nice calypso beat, it strikes me that it could have gotten annoying pretty quickly. The second, Braver, is a nicer more ballad type of piece that would have filled out the character of Shanti more. We’re told it was cut because this is Mowgli’s film. I bet he wouldn’t have minded.
Music And More: This sub menu contains links to a few more extras.
“I Wanna Be Like You” Music Video: God is this thing bad. Smash Mouth performs a “modern” version of the King Louie tune that will hurt your ears. It’s pretty ugly, folks.
You can also directly access two other songs from the film from this sub menu.
Sing Along With The Movie: This option allows you to view the film with the lyrics turned on.
Synopsis Of The Original: You get a four minute recap of the first film complete with clips.
The Legacy Of The Jungle Book: Members of the cast and crew show some love for the original before talking about this film. I’m disturbed by how many times someone is telling us how much they’ve improved on the original. One goes so far to say that the new song WILD rivals the King Louie number. They go on to point out what they appear to consider flaws in the original and how they “fixed” them here. This piece is a pretty back handed compliment, if you ask me.
Games And Activities: These are the typical remote control navigated activities found on all of these DVD releases. Even your 5 year old will bore very quickly.
The original film was the last to be supervised by Walt himself before he died. I understand that Disney feels they have some profitable franchises here and that the quick exploitation of them is pretty much inevitable. I am glad they took obvious care in as many places as they did. Still, for me this was such a watered down version of the classic that I fear young children today will never have quite the joyful experiences I had with these undying works of art. Too often a film appeases to avoid the art moniker. When the George Lucases of the world are constantly changing there own work and we get flooded with endless remakes and sequels, you kind of understand why. What would Leonardo Da Vinci think if the Louvre decided to release “The Mona Lisa 2”, of course improving on all of those ancient nasty little flaws. With computers today, I’m sure we can get a much nicer painting, can’t we? I could go on and on, but “we all know how it ends”.