There is no pretense of art or imagination in this movie. It barely qualifies as creative marketing. It’s just Disney’s latest strategy to leverage the affection that generations of viewers have for its animated classics by cranking out pallid sequels. In this case, the credits list six separate writers, but fail to mention the guy who created the characters, Rudyard Kipling. I’m sure that wherever he is, he is just as happy not to have his name associated with this movie.
As with “Return to Neverland” and the straight-to-video sequels to “Aladdin,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” instead of enhancing our connection to those characters, however, these films dilute it through watered-down production values and weak story lines. The result is like a blurred fax of a fax of a fax of the original.
The original “Jungle Book” was the last animated film personally supervised by Walt Disney. The few glimmers of life in this palid sequel are reprises of some of that film’s best moments, especially the wonderful songs, “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” But other attempts to remind us of the earlier film will disappoint those who remember it well and confuse those who do not.
The movie begins just after the first one ends. “Man-cub” Mowgli (now voiced by Haley Joel Osment of “The Sixth Sense” and “A.I.”) has followed the girl who sang so sweetly as she filled her pitcher with water and now lives in the village, where he has been adopted by a loving family. But he misses his animal friends in the jungle. When Baloo (now voiced by John Goodman) comes to see him, Mowgli follows him back into the jungle. Shanti and a feisty toddler, thinking he is in danger, follow him and get lost. Meanwhile, the tiger Shere Kahn, furious because Mowgli defeated him, has vowed revenge.
There are some light-weight action sequences and some second-rate song numbers. The voice talents are excellent, though not up to the original’s Phil Harris and Louis Prima. And the Disney animators, even on a second-tier project like this one, still do the best work there is — viewers should be sure to look out for the meticulous work on the rippling water and some wonderfully expressive character work.
Parents should know that the movie does have some scary moments, but no one gets hurt.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we can sometimes feel divided loyalties and how by being honest with the people we love, we can find a way to be true to ourselves and those we care about. They should also talk about the end of the movie — is there a better way for Mowgli to talk to his new family about what he is doing? Families should also talk to younger children about the importance of not going off on their own and always letting their parents know where they are.
Families who enjoy this movie should see the original. They might also enjoy the live-action movie versions of the Kipling story. They might also enjoy Disney’s version of “Peter and the Wolf,” another story about a boy who goes off for an adventure with some animal friends and enemies.