Feel the jungle beat!
If you rip yourself off, is it okay?
Facts of the Case
Watch The Jungle Book, remove motivations and mystery, and you have The Jungle Book 2.
To understand the overwhelming critical outcry against The Jungle Book 2, you have to appreciate the original story. The Jungle Book was based on Kipling's enchanting children's literature. He imbues simple animals with such personality, menace, and heroism that kids get completely wrapped up in the story. In 1967, children's' librarians probably held their collective breath to see whether Walt would butcher their beloved tales. Fortunately, Disney took enough chances and employed enough colorful personality to breathe life into the animated spin-off of Kipling's tales. The Jungle Book became a classic of sorts due to the wonderful music and timely humor.
People appreciate animated movies because they bring something fresh to the table, an artistic impression of the world around us. Animated adventures offer us a world impossible to visit in live action. At the very least, we expect sequels to give us something new. The Jungle Book 2 smacks of plagiarism. Uninspired plagiarism at that. The original was all about the mystique of the man-cub, the reactions of the jungle denizens to this immature threat. Baloo takes Mowgli under his wing, but would he be so accommodating if Mowgli was grown and had a rifle under his arm? In the same manner, Mowgli is unaware of the eternal threat to life and limb posed by the tranquil jungle environment. The whole affair was driven by a mystical, synergistic irony. Throw in a handful of truly inspired musical numbers, and you get a film that was mostly successful. This "new" version is such a lackluster imitation that you can't even find it in the shadow of the original.
The "plot" is that Mowgli wants to return to the jungle. He does so, encounters all of his old associates, and then goes back to the village. There is no central force behind these actions. The characters have been stored on a shelf, immobile, for 36 years. They are pulled out, shaken off, and propped up for the camera.
The Jungle Book 2 invites derision by failing to make a stand. Mowgli is still clad in a loincloth, despite living among civilized people. He hasn't aged appreciably. Baloo is still carefree. The birds are still hanging around cracking jokes. The snake is as bumbling and slithery as ever. The little elephant is still little. In other words, precious little time seems to have passed. Yet King Louie has split, his castle in ruins. Baloo langours about in forlorn apathy, missing his "dance partner." He wonders if Mowgli still remembers everything he was taught. When Mowgli encounters acquaintances from the first movie, they act like they haven't seen him in years. Mowgli acts like he has been incarcerated. It seems like years have passed. Take a stand!
If, indeed, five days have passed from the end of the first film to the beginning of the second, why does the second movie exist at all? The real reason is not an artistic one, it is a financial one. Cha-ching! Come to me, little ones. Bring your parents. Feed the plastic coffers of Disney. Please, if we are going to pay money, give us something in return.
To give you an idea of how pathetic this sequel is, Baloo sings "The Bare Necessities" not once, not twice, but thrice! Feel the jungle beat? I'd rather read Tiger Beat.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The loud critical outcry against The Jungle Book 2, though deserved, might lead you to believe that this movie is the worst dreck of all time. That is not precisely true. If you had never seen the original, or any other recent Disney movies, you might be somewhat entertained by this effort. The animation suffers from black outline syndrome, but it is smooth and occasionally dramatic with bold colors and shadows. The voice talent, which is the most compelling aspect to The Jungle Book 2, is successful in a utilitarian way. Disney avoided the obvious trap of trying to recreate the original voices. Instead, they allowed the actors to express their own voice in the spirit of the original characters. John Rhys-Davies, Phil Collins, Jim Cummings, John Goodman, and Haley Joel Osment give nicely shaded personality to the animated imitations of the characters from the original. The forced musical numbers achieved a rudimentary level of entertainment, although the main showstopper is just that—it grinds the show to a screeching halt.
The extras package is quite thorough. There is a stripped down "Trivial Tomb Raider" game, music videos, and sanitized Disney commentary. The bald faced self-aggrandizement in the commentary made me choke. Did you know that Walt Disney invented animation? The best feature is an excised musical number, "I Got You Beat," told in storyboards and rough cut audio. It got me grooving more that the rest of the movie combined.
Will this movie keep your four-year-old quiet for an hour? Yes, if that's what you're looking for. If you have never seen The Jungle Book, you might appreciate this DVD. Otherwise, I see no reason to embrace it.
Innovate or face the consequences. Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
• Mowgli's Jungle Ruins Maze Game
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