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(2003) (voices of Haley Joel Osment, John Goodman) (G)

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Children's Animated: A jungle boy longs to return to the wilderness and join his former animal friends, unaware that a menacing tiger wants to kill him.
Young Mowgli (voice of HALEY JOEL OSMENT) now lives with a human Indian family in a village just outside the jungle where he was raised by a bunch of wolves and then befriended by a fun-loving bear, Baloo (voice of JOHN GOODMAN). The two miss each other terribly, and thus Baloo, despite attempts by Bagheera the panther (voice of BOB JOLES) to stop him, sets out to find and retrieve his young friend.

That ends up putting the boy in danger since the menacing and vengeful tiger, Shere Khan (voice of TONY JAY), wants to kill Mowgli for earlier embarrassing him. The repeated taunting by Lucky (voice of PHIL COLLINS) the vulture doesn't help Shere Khan's already nasty disposition.

As Mowgli heads back into the jungle with Baloo, he's followed by Shanti (voice of MAE WHITMAN), the young girl who initially lured him out of the jungle, as well as their young and fearless friend Ranjan (voice of CONNOR FUNK), both of whom set out to find the jungle boy.

As Ranjan's father (voice of JOHN RHYS-DAVIES) worries about all of them, and a hungry and large snake, Kaa (voice of JIM CUMMINGS), eyes all of them as tasty appetizers, Shere Khan stalks his intended prey. From that point on, it's up to Mowgli's friends to protect the boy.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
They say that living in the wild or rural areas as compared to urban ones can prolong life and help people maintain a more youthful appearance and vigor. I'm not sure if that applies to the jungle, however, what with the dangerous wildlife, infectious diseases and lack of HBO.

Yet, that seems to be the case with Mowgli the jungle boy who we last saw in 1967's "The Jungle Book." Loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's collection of tales by the same name, the film certainly didn't match up to Disney's classic animated films in terms of animation or story quality. Yet, it was fairly entertaining and contained some fun songs, including the Oscar-nominated "The Bare Necessities."

Only surpassed by the amount of time between "Peter Pan" and last year's "Return to Neverland," "The Jungle Book 2" earns this year's unofficial award of most delayed sequel, yet Mowgli hasn't aged a bit. To be fair, the film is set just a few days or weeks after the conclusion of the first film.

That may explain why we get to hear "The Bear Necessities" not once, not twice, but three times in this film. What it doesn't justify, however, is why Disney raided its vaults once again. Oh yeah, they're out to make a quick buck. Since they're a business I suppose that's okay, but doing so via an already established property feels a bit disingenuous.

As has been the case with so many of their other animated classics, this follow-up pales in comparison to the original. Barely long enough to quality as a feature length film - it clocks in at around 70 minutes including credits - the 'toon was obviously designed to be a straight to video release much like most of its contemporary brethren.

Yet, for reasons unknown, it was selected to hit the big screen first before retreating to the far more lucrative home video market. Aside from some of the noteworthy vocal cast members, there's absolutely nothing remarkable or memorable about the film. The artwork is above Saturday morning TV fare but well below Disney's more prestigious and big-budget animated offerings.

The story - by screenwriter Karl Geurs (making his feature film debut) - is rather flat, although it's serviceable enough to entertain and hold the attention of very young viewers. In short, and with most if not all of the original characters returning (they must have needed the money), the plot picks up where the original left off.

This time around, however, Mowgli yearns to return to the jungle and be with his pal Baloo, while the vengeful Shere Khan wants revenge for the previous burning bush tied to his tale incident. Unfortunately, Geurs and director Steve Trenbirth (making his directorial debut after working on various straight to video animated offerings) don't do much other than recycle various elements from the first effort.

Beyond the repeated occurrences of the aforementioned song, there's the marching elephant bit, the smooth talking and hypnotic snake Kaa, the Fab Four vultures and much more. As a result, the "been there, seen that" feeling is likely to overwhelm and ultimately bore viewers familiar with the original offering. All of which makes one wonder why they and/or Disney didn't at least try to do something interesting with the story or characters beyond essentially just retreading everything.

Aside from "The Bare Necessities," the rest of the songs are instantly forgettable. As far as the vocal performances are concerned, many of the performers appear to have been chosen for their ability to imitate or at least somewhat sound like their predecessors.

Haley Joel Osment ("The Country Bears," "The Sixth Sense") is okay as Mowgli, but sports a weak singing voice. Similarly not an exact imitation of or as good as his predecessor, John Goodman ("Monsters, Inc." "Coyote Ugly") is nevertheless entertaining as Baloo.

Tony Jay ("Treasure Planet," "Recess: School's Out") and Jim Cummings ("Piglet's Big Movie," "Tarzan & Jane") deliver voices that come closest to the original work in voicing Shere Khan and Kaa, even if the former seems to be channeling Jeremy Irons from "The Lion King" at times. Meanwhile, Mae Whitman ("An American Rhapsody," "Hope Floats") and John Rhys-Davies (the "Lord of the Rings" films) are decent as two Indian characters.

Although some parents may welcome the brief running time, others are apt to feel gypped, particularly when paying for multiple admissions rather than one video rental or even purchase. The same will hold true for those who adore the original work and/or are expecting something entertaining out of the sequel. Another example of corporate greed besting art, "The Jungle Book 2" rates as just a 4 out of 10 simply for passably filling a void in cinematic offerings aimed at the very young set.

Reviewed February 8, 2003 / Posted February 14, 2003

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