I'm all for a second helping of beloved animation cinema, but if this is how Disney is going to treat Baloo the Bear, they can rot in artistic hell.
After spending time in his new adoptive home with the humans, the "Man-Cub" Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osmet) has developed an itch to return to his jungle roots. Missing his bear friend Baloo (John Goodman), Mowgli returns to the wild and soon discovers that his nemesis, the tiger Shere Kahn, has returned to his old stomping ground, looking to exact revenge on Mowgli.
There's a justifiable distaste when it comes to cheap, off-the-rack animation cash-ins from DisneyToons. Made hurriedly and without flair, these DTV sequels have become an embarrassment to the Disney legacy, Eisnering their way into the wallets of the audiences, but not their hearts. Then came 2002's "Peter Pan" follow-up, "Return to Neverland," which was well-written, inventively staged, and featured above-average entertainment for the family buck. I was impressed, and felt twitches of guilt about my stance on the late-'90s surge of disposable Disney sequels.
"Jungle Book 2" snapped me out of the haze I was in.
The main drawback of "Book 2" is that nothing of interest actually happens. Sure, there's this vague outline of a plot to follow, but the film isn't interested in tackling engaging storytelling. It's a wretched motion picture, hoping to bite off a chunk of effortless appeal from "Book 1," which I consider to be one of Disney's more accomplished, timeless diversions.
Yes, all the characters return, but this time they're voiced by some B-level Saturday morning animation veterans, and the celebrities that are here fail to do the roles justice. John Goodman is a booming, appealing actor, but he doesn't have a prayer trying to fill the late Phil Harris's generous paws as hepcat comedian of the jungle, Baloo. Try as they might to retain the swingin' merriment of "Book 1" (and heavens do they ever, reprising "The Bare Necessities" three or four times during the film), the animators cannot locate any steady rhythm for their movie, and "Book 2" ends up cold, dull, and, well...pointless. Everything "Book 1" wasn't.
"Book 1" was the last film Walt Disney supervised back in mid-1960s before his passing, and I can only imagine his enraged reaction to this sequel if he were alive (or unthawed) today.
The new "Book" makes Baloo out to be a jealous boyfriend of sorts to Mowgli, constantly thwarting the Man-Cub's opportunities to return to his own kind. It's meant as an offering of friendship, yet it's performed as disturbing obsession. Also, the songs lack any type of spark. Going from Sherman Brother classics like "I Wan'na Be Like You" to the tepid newer selections, such as Mowgli's showstopper "Jungle Rhythm," completely deflates the experience. I see why the filmmakers are relentless in reprising "Bare Necessities" as much as they can.
Offered in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1 aspect ratio), "Book 2" has the advantage being a semi-recent production, enjoying a bath of Disney-machine slickness and coloring. The presentation is clear with great animated detail and strong black levels, though some digital imperfections haunt the DVD from time to time.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on "Book 2" presents the dialogue clearly, separated well from the animated shenanigans, with good use of surround channels for slapstick sequences and musical numbers. Spanish and French audio tracks are also available.
English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
"Deleted Scenes" (9:24) are two demo musical numbers ("I Got You" and "Braver") originally factoring into an earlier version of the story. They are viewed with introductions from DisneyToon suits Sharon Morrill and Matt Walker.
"Disney Song Selection" offers the viewer a chance to jump straight to the musical numbers of "Book 2," with on-screen lyrics provided for a few of the tunes.
Music Videos for "W-I-L-D," "Jungle Rhythm," and Smash Mouth's unbelievably awful cover of "I Wanna be Like You" are offered.
Games for "Mowgli's Story Time Adventure" and "Mowgli's Jungle Ruins Maze" offer younger viewers a pair of simple, brief distractions themed to "Book 2."
"Synopsis of the Original Movie" (2:59) brings viewers up to speed on "Book 1," but I heartily recommend a viewing of the full feature over this bizarre recap.
"The Legacy of 'The Jungle Book'" (14:11) is a making-of featurette on "Book 2," interviewing cast and crew on how far technology has come since 1967, and how it informs the new production. The video source for some of the footage is a little rickety, but the mini-doc offers at least some explanation for the film and seems careful not to trash the original picture to pimp the new one.
A trailer for "Jungle Book 2" has not been included on this DVD, but peeks are offered for "A Nightmare Before Christmas," "Tinker Bell," "Phineas and Ferb," "The Secret of the Magic Gourd," The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning," "101 Dalmatians 2," "Wall-E," "The Sword in the Stone," and "Sleeping Beauty."
The film opens with boy wonder Mowgli performing a high-spirited stick puppet rendition of the events of the first film. Sad to say, but I enjoyed that nostalgic contact-high more than anything in the remaining 70 minutes. I can understand Disney's lust for profit, but must they destroy the integrity of their catalog of classics in the process? Baloo deserves better.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com