It's unfortunate that over the past few years Disney has spent more of its time, money and creative talent trying to capitalize on their classic 'brands' rather than finding new stories to tell. Many of these 'classic' sequels never see the inside of a movie theater and are often destined for the less critical and more casual home video audience (kids parked in front of the TV). Once in a while Disney decides that one of these sequels is actually 'feature' quality and they decide to unleash it into the theaters. To date their track record for these sequels has been pretty poor and almost all of them are devoid of the 'Disney Magic' that made their namesakes so loved.
Last year I suffered through the painfully uninspired Peter Pan: Return To Neverland, and like that film Jungle Book 2 falls lock step into a poor pattern of Disney sequel movie making. More aptly titled 'Jungle Book's Greatest Hits' this new feature spends almost all of its short 'just over an hour' time re-visiting key moments from the classic Jungle Book film and almost none of it showing us anything new. Of the films four or five songs only two of them were new, the rest were re-singings of the classic Jungle Book songs. I like the song 'Bear Necessities' as much as the next guy, but I was shocked by the fact that in such a short movie, the classic song was sung three times! If you do the math the 'Bear Necessities' takes up almost 25% of the running time of Jungle Book 2. The two new songs in the film 'Jungle Rhythm' and 'W-I-L-D' are completely forgettable. I got the distinct feeling that the team behind Jungle Book 2 realized that they didn't have enough to fill the full hour (or enough songs for the soundtrack) so they came up with the truly tangential 'W-I-L-D' sequence which doesn't really fit narratively or tonally within the film.
One of the things I never quite understand about Disney films, is why they try to force and emotional arc with the kids who watch them by scaring the crap out of them and then comforting them with music, jubilation and celebration. You'd think with the audience that they're targeting they'd make some effort to ensure that smaller kids wouldn't be disturbed or upset by the images in their films. The Jungle Book 2 resorts to this fear and joy yoyo tactic drawing a much more frightening and sinister version of Shere Khan than in the classic. I saw Jungle Book 2 with my 4 year old and there were several scenes with Shere Khan that made her squirm in her seat, and one where she turned to me and said she was 'ready to go home'. This wasn't the case with the classic Jungle Book movie, one that she really enjoys.
The most frustrating thing about Jungle Book 2 is that it COULD have been a good film, much of the voice acting in the film is extremely solid. I especially enjoyed John Goodman's performances as Baloo, he did a fantastic job embodying the part while still making it his very own. Goodman did fantastic work in Monsters Inc. and after seeing Jungle Book 2, it's clear that we'll be seeing a lot more of his voice acting talents. Haley Joe Osment also does a fine job voicing Mowgli but he isn't as strong as Goodman when it comes to signing. One of the more entertaining voice roles in Jungle Book 2 was done by Phil Collins who voices one of the very few new characters: 'Lucky the Vulture'. Collins seems like he is having the time of his life on this film and it really shows. Even the best of voice acting can't make up for the lack of story in Jungle Book 2, rather than rehashing the classic movie Screenwriter Karl Geurs should have looked at the original Jungle Book as a jumping off point rather than a blue print.
The real failure of Jungle Book 2 isn't my experience of the film, but rather my daughter's who sat fidgety and disinterested through much of the film. Being the daughter of the editor of a major DVD site she see's a lot of movies, has a great sense of humor and loves a wide range of films, but there wasn't anything for her in Jungle Book 2. The 'scarier' scenes with Shere Khan seemed to bother her, and in the just over an hour that the film was on I didn't hear her laugh even once, and even though they sang it three times, she never did seem to get into the 'Bear Necessities'.
It's a real shame that Disney is releasing this very short, very uninspired film to theaters as it much more direct-to-video quality rather than a real feature. My truest hope is that they will soon run out of classic films to make sequels to an get back to the job of telling new stories, with new characters and maybe just maybe find some of that old Disney Magic Again.