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The Jungle Book 2

Rated G, 72 min. Directed by Steve Trenbirth. Voices by John Goodman, Haley Joel Osment, Mae Whitman, John Rhys-Davies, Jim Cummings, Phil Collins.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 21, 2003

Where are those PETA brigades when you really need ’em? Instead of expending their energies liberating captive animals from research labs, the group might consider turning their attentions to Disney’s longtime exploitation of animal labor. In The Jungle Book 2, the Disney animators yank out from retirement the beloved animal characters from the 1967 original, douse them with a fresh coat of paint, and splash them across the screen as if it were only yesterday that the feral boy Mowgli left his animal family in the forest for the comradeship of other homo erecti in the nearby man village. Without so much as bothering with any plot or character development, these old jungle beasts are trucked out for the entertainment of a new generation of preschoolers whose parents were no doubt weaned on the original. Mowgli (voiced by Osment) is still as cute as ever, a "man-cub" in a loincloth and a wedge-cut pageboy ’do. What girl wouldn’t mind having one of these scampering up her backyard tree? Although Mowgli has now been integrated into human society he stills longs for the ways of the jungle. Meanwhile, Baloo the bear (voiced by Goodman) also pines for his little buddy. The Jungle Book 2 reunites the duo and features walk-ons by some of the other original characters: the ferocious tiger Shere Khan, the ever famished boa constrictor Kaa, and the wise old panther Bagheera. Shanti, the girl who first lured Mowgli out of the jungle, now overcomes her ingrained fear of the forbidden forest in order to search for her runaway man-cub. These sections about the conflicts between civilization and the laws of nature are actually kind of interesting – in a G-rated sort of way. The voice characterizations are fine and help to make up for the unambitious animation. Kids should take a liking to all the talking animals, though there is nothing in this film that elevates it beyond baby-sitting material. Which brings up the question of why Disney even bothered with a theatrical release when the movie is such obvious "park the kid in front of the TV for an hour while the grownups get something done" material. Even at a brief 72 minutes, The Jungle Book 2 seems extremely drawn out. Is there any other reason Disney would throw in three reprises here of the original’s hit song, Bare Necessities" if it were not to disguise this film’s "Unnecessary Indulgence"?
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