The HD presentation is basically flawless, with none of the over-emphatic DNR work that has cursed many other Disney releases, though the extra features are notably lacking in interest.
The story picks up where the original Jungle Book left off, with Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) now ensconced in the Man Village and still attracted to Shanti (Mae Whitman), the little girl who lured him out of the jungle and away from his animal friends, particularly Baloo the Bear (John Goodman).
A depressed Baloo pines away for his man-cub while Mowgli is unhappy because he's expected to follow his adopted family's rules and can no longer lead the carefree jungle life he once enjoyed. Despite Bagheera the Panther's (Bob Joles) urgings to leave Mowgli in peace Baloo sneaks into the Man Village at the same time a vengeful Shere Khan (Tony Jay), the tiger defeated and humiliated by Baloo and Mowgli at the end of The Jungle Book, also slips into the village and likewise searching for Mowgli.
In the confusion, Baloo and Mowgli sneak back into the jungle and Shanti, believing Baloo has kidnapped Mowgli, goes after him, unaware that Mowgli's tiny adopted brother Ranjan (Connor Funk) is following her.
Otherwise, The Jungle Book 2 is mostly a rehash of the first movie, including no less than three reprises of the original film's signature tune, "The Bare Necessities," sung three times too many. As before, characters have close calls with the comically menacing Kaa the Snake (Jim Cummings), Mowgli and Baloo have another big musical number at King Louie's monkey palace (ancient Indian ruins), and there's the expected climatic confrontation between Baloo, Mowgli and Shere Khan at the end.
The biggest problem with The Jungle Book 2 is its highly unimaginative script, the kind of thing that plays like it was written by a committee of Disney lawyers and executives rather than writers armed with an original approach. Except for the scenes at the Man Village, mostly it's a regurgitation of material from the original film. And, other than King Louie, conspicuously absent due to a legal dispute with the estate of original voice actor Louis Prima, all of the original animal characters return with few if any new additions. Even the vulture characters, their voices modeled after The Beatles, return, and it's strange to have such a mid-‘60s pop culture reference in a 2003 production.
Most of the voice cast emulate the original voice actors: Jim Cummings, for instance, does a fine imitation of Sterling Hollway's original Kaa while Joles and Jay do reasonable approximations of Sebastian Cabot and George Sanders. But John Goodman as Baloo sounds like John Goodman in a touring roadshow production of The Jungle Book and, try as he might, comes nowhere close to capturing jazz vocalist Phil Harris's relaxed, rhythmic performance from the original film. Goodman is a great character actor, but he's as wrong in this part as he was (more of less) trying to fill John Belushi's shoes in Blues Brothers 2000.
The movie, however, is successful in other ways. In terms of the animation, The Jungle Book 2 finds a nice middle ground between the rougher-drawn, more pastel look of the original film and the Disney house style of the early 2000s. Though it may originally have been intended as a straight-to-video release, the animation is generally excellent with fine character movement especially, and with a few unobtrusive CGI assists here and there. And while generally unmemorable, as a rainy day entertainment my six-year-old daughter was thoroughly delighted. For this adult it wasn't the painful sit-through of Disney's worst, most woe-begotten sequels to their classic 1930s-60s features.
Video & Audio
Presented in 1080p 1.66:1 widescreen, The Jungle Book 2 looks great, essentially flawless, with colors really popping and without distracting DNR work that has marred other Disney Blus. The 5.1 DTS-HDMA audio likewise impresses, nicely robust in the musical numbers and incorporating lots of clever directional dialogue and sound effects. A 2.0 Dolby Digital track is also available, and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in French and Spanish, with subtitles in all three languages. The set includes a DVD and Digital HD copy as well and the Blu-ray is all-region.
Supplements, almost all in standard-def, fail to impress. They include a brief (15-minute) self-serving "Legacy of The Jungle Book" featurette, two deleted scenes, two music videos, a video recap of the original film, and a karaoke-type "Sing-Along Track" option." Feh.
Not good but harmless as a movie and hardly the depressing embarrassment of some of Disney's other sequels to its original run of classic animated features, The Jungle Book 2 benefits from a terrific transfer and, all told, it's passable as entertainment. Mildly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.