Coincidentally, the wife forced us to watch The Jungle Book last night, even though I had already taken care of our movie-night needs by procuring this copy of The Jungle Bunch, which I thought our daughter might like. Can't say I have high hopes that my offering will compare very favorably to the Disney classic, but then we know the wives are always correct, right? Right?
Personal life aside, it will come as no surprise that the older Disney film is far superior, but as goofy kids' movies go, The Jungle Bunch isn't without its (weird) charms. At just under one-hour in length, the Bunch throws a few warmed-over ideas into the pot, making an improbable stew that looks weird but tastes OK. It starts as what looks like an overly simplified Happy Feet, with a bunch of cute penguins caring for their eggs. If you turn your head briefly, as I did, you'll miss the part detailing just how one of those penguin babies ends up in an African jungle, but you'll quickly learn that penguin (Maurice, as voiced by John Lithgow) thinks he's a tiger, with a personality resembling a Kung Fu Panda or something. At least, Maurice likes to fight, and to train his random friends in the art of martial discipline.
That's when two of Maurice's long-lost penguin buddies come in search of the legendary "Great Tiger Warrior," (Maurice of course) the only one who can help defend the penguin colony from a group of marauding walruses. More training, adventures, and aggressive fighting ensue, before everyone is able to go home happy. It's a slight tale, which isn't always a bad thing when it comes to kids' movies, and at first glance it makes little to no real sense. Raised by a tiger, (umm) Maurice the penguin grows up painting himself to look like a tiger, (which looks all kinds of weird and wrong) becomes a devoted warrior, (with the voice of Lithgow - huh?) and carries around his son, a tiger-striped goldfish in a bowl - a fish that he occasionally uses as a weapon.
Not even his geographically challenged cadre of buddies - a gorilla, wart-hog, bat, bush baby, and two poisonous toads - can load this movie with the slightest bit of logic. They, of course, rob it of any remaining logic. While we don't expect a bunch of logic or realism in a kids' movie, the Alf-like levels of willful incongruity on display lend The Jungle Bunch an improbable allure - especially for adults who've tuned their sensibilities to 'warped'. Overly simplistic CGI character designs first seem half-hearted, an attempt to meld Wallace & Grommit with the Happy Feet penguins, mainly, but these too ultimately have a powerful charm.
No, The Jungle Bunch is no Jungle Book, but in its blatant disregard for most of the tired conventions of kids' fare, and willingness to throw weird ingredients together willy-nilly, it earns kudos. Maybe it will convince your kids that there's more to creativity than simply trying to remake what was successful before. At least it may give them a taste for different flavors of entertainment. You parents will appreciate the movie's brief, hour-long run-time, while maybe getting a bigger kick out of the movie than your children.