Oh my, did this one hurt. The Jungle Book is one of my favorite Disney films, so this sequel (which arrived almost forty years after the first film!) had its work cut out for it right from the start. Let it be known that I have nothing against sequels, if a worthwhile story can be told; for example, I thought the Aladdin sequels were pretty good. But The Jungle Book 2 is a classic example of what deriders criticized Disney for doing in the late ’90s and 2000’s: trotting out sequels to movies which didn’t need them.
The reason why this story didn’t need to be told is because the original Jungle Book ended on a perfect, final note (warning: spoilers for the few who haven’t seen it): Mowgli, a boy raised in the jungle by various animals, finally realizes his place amongst his own kind when he hears a siren song of a girl his age. Mowgli even flat out shrugs happily as he leaves, as if to indicate: “Yeah, I can’t help it.” Baloo, a fun-loving bear, is disappointed that he lost his best friend, but realizes he can’t fight fate as he matter-of-factly observes: “He’s hooked.” Nice conclusion, right? Well screw all that! The sequel flat out rejects that ending: Mowgli, instead of enjoying his new life in the village, misses Baloo and wants to return to the jungle. Oh, and that pretty village girl that Mowgli fell head over heels for, and who subtly beckoned him to follow her? Yeah, she (named Shanti) actually finds Mowgli a bit annoying at times. Admittedly, Shanti wasn’t developed as a character in the first film, but the choices they gave when expanding her character seemed really arbitrary. I suppose you could argue that she’s written like that so that Mowgli has a reason to want to leave the village in the first place, but the problem is they didn’t develop it enough.
Needless to say, Mowgli is back in his old stomping grounds in short order, with Shanti and Mowgli’s little brother Ranjan (a nothing role that really only seems to exist to have a cute young kid in the movie) are trying to find him and bring him back. All the while, the threatening tiger Shere Khan (who was thwarted in the last film by some fire on the tail) seeks revenge against Mowgli. Lacking the build-up of the first film, Shere Khan isn’t nearly as intimidating in this film.
It doesn’t help that when Mowgli is in the jungle, we get some rehashes of the first film. Yay, Mowgli and Baloo sing “Bear Necessities.” Mowgli parties with the monkeys. Kaa tries to eat someone after hypnotizing them. Shere Khan interrogates Kaa about where Mowgli is. Even the elephant brigade makes a brief appearance because… hey, they were in the first film, so why not put them in here again even though they have nothing important to do? Only the rematch between Shere Khan and Mowgli feels original, but strangely, despite the sequel having more high scale action sequences, it’s the first film’s climax that I prefer, since it gets the tension across much better even with less running around and jumping across lava pits. And the ending, where Mowgli decides to return to the village, is a lousy reset button, negating any reason for this sequel to exist.
There are also some head-scratching motivations in this movie. For example, in the early part of the movie, Mowgli can barely wait to leave the village (which is forbidden by his father), but later, immediately after some high-energy musical song-and-dance numbers, Mowgli abruptly starts to miss the village (and specifically, Shanti). What caused his change of attitude? Answer: one or two lines from other characters about how much the village sucks. Talk about rushed.
Another obvious downside to this movie is that some of the original voice actors have passed on since 1967, and the replacements vary from okay to distracting, only making you wish you were watching the original film. Let’s start with the good: Jim Cummings as Kaa the seductive snake. He’s virtually indistinguishable from Sterling Holloway, which is no surprise since both also voiced Winnie the Pooh. Tony Jay as villain tiger Shere Khan also is a fine mimic of George Sanders; both offered that British accent and low-pitched menace that’s so awesome. I didn’t mind the various voice actors who replaced the vultures, though they weren’t in the film for more than a couple minutes. However, it’s downhill from there. Bob Joles as Bagheera the panther isn’t really awful but doesn’t have the presence or elegance that Sebastian Cabot had. Haley Joel Osment may be a fine actor in some movies, but he’s totally miscast here as Mowgli, barely sounding like Bruce Reitherman from the original. I love John Goodman but nobody can fill Phil Harris’s shoes, as hard as he tries. All I could think of when Baloo talked is Pacha from Emperor’s New Groove. King Louie is absent; it’s probably for the best, though, because it would’ve been extremely difficult to recast the iconic Louis Prima. Speaking of failing to measure up to the original, the new musical numbers are really forgettable, despite their jazzy instrumentation and upbeat tempos.
Really, the only aspect of the movie that I liked was the animation, which is better than most of the direct-to-video Disney features and is close to feature film quality. It’s just a shame it couldn’t have been utilized on a better film.
Special features are limited, and are recycled from the 2003 DVD edition. We get two deleted scenes, both of which are musical numbers, totaling 5 minutes and 3 minutes, respectively. They’re not notable. There’s also a three minute recap of the first film, just in case you’re one of the five who haven’t seen the original. A 14-minute featurette, about the impact of the 1967 original, doesn’t really delve into the production all that much. There are also some sing-alongs and music videos that I didn’t bother watching.
It takes a lot to make me dislike a Disney film, but this was not one of their better efforts. It’s a textbook example of superfluous: We didn’t need to see what happened to Mowgli after joining his own kind, but for some reason (read: money), the movie feels inclined to tell us. And none of it is compelling or engaging cinema. Personally, I’d prefer just leaving it to my imagination how Mowgli’s life went after that, than having this uncreative film ruin it for me. Stick with the superior original and leave this one for the vultures.