|Jungle Book 2, The|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 10 June 2003|
Viewers can pretty much count on Disney Studios for good music in their movies, well-drawn and lively characters, and . . . sequels. Those sequels aren’t always the wisest of choices because oftentimes Disney hasn’t put as much effort into producing the second movie. “The Jungle Book,” first animated back in 1967 and an instant classic, waited over 30 years for the sequel treatment.
Those who were children when they watch the original movie 36 years ago are now old enough to be parents of grown children and potentially have grandchildren by now. At first glance, doing a sequel didn’t seem to be a wise investment, even after “The Jungle Book” DVD was released to an eager audience. However, like Rudyard Kipling’s original story about the orphan boy raised by jungle animals, Mowgli’s cinematic adventures tend toward the perennial.
In the first movie, the audience learns that Mowgli was discovered by Bagheera the black panther, who felt compelled to take care of the young man-cub. In short order, Bagheera shared that responsibility with Baloo the bear. Together, Bagheera and Baloo represented the opposite ends of parenting. Bagheera was conservative and thoughtful, every move planned out. Baloo was explosive and lived life by the moment, just for the sheer happiness of singing and dancing and lazing around. Unfortunately, amid all the joy of discovering his foster parents, Mowgli also makes a mortal enemy of Shere Khan, the dreaded Bengal tiger that preys on men and other animals alike. Mowgli was able to defeat Shere Khan in the first movie, and was drawn to the man-village by the soft brown eyes of a young girl about his age.
Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) in Chapter 1 cunningly performs the above recap within “Jungle Book 2” while the opening credits roll, double-dipping on the screen time. Mowgli uses shadow puppets to tell the tale to Ranjan, his young stepbrother, who has obviously heard the story a number of times. Ranjan gets into the spirit of the moment as the tale reaches the exciting end when Shere Khan trapped Mowgli without Bagheera and Baloo. The boy jumps around, pretending to be a fierce tiger, much to Mowgli’s chagrin and Shanti’s irritation. Shanti is the young girl that drew Mowgli’s interest and got him to leave the jungle to enter the man-village.
As Mowgli and Shanti work to tame the savage beast that is Ranjan, Mowgli’s foster mother calls from off-screen to the right. Her voice carries through the right front speaker so clearly that most viewers will unconsciously look in that direction to see her. The DVD doesn’t make use of all the surround sound capabilities it might have, but it does use them subtly to enhance the realism of the story.
Mowgli’s foster parents enter the scene and tell everyone it’s time for bed. Ranjan isn’t happy about the prospect, but agrees — only after talking about the secret he and Mowgli share. Mowgli calls his stepfather “sir” and doesn’t hug him as Ranjan does. Evidently he’s conflicted about how he’s supposed to feel about his adoptive parents.
In Chapter 2, the audience is treated to real Disney moments as Ranjan sneaks up on Mowgli, who is sleeping in the rafters. Ranjan scares Mowgli and the two carry on for a bit before talking about their plans again. Today is the day that Mowgli promised to take Ranjan into the jungle to go adventuring. The boys attempt to sneak out of the house but their mother catches them, displaying all the mystical Momly powers that mothers have in most Disney animated features. The message is clear and succinct: nothing ever gets by Mom.
Mom warns the boys not to cross the river because it is too dangerous. The boys creep down to the river and surprise Shanti, who is getting water for her family. Ranjan acts like a tiger and springs from hiding, startling Shanti so badly that she falls into the river. Of course, she’s not happy with the boys.
In Chapter 3, the movie breaks out into the first number on the song track. Mowgli, in an attempt to dissuade Shanti from telling what they’re planning and to make up for scaring her, bursts out into song. His excitement and the drumming beat draws the rest of the kids of the village. The choreography of the dance number is awesome, compelling and colorful. Like a Pied Piper, Mowgli leads the entire group toward the jungle waiting on the other side of the river. Before they can cross over, though, Shanti shouts out an alarm that draws the parents. Mowgli ends up grounded in his room, totally bored and missing the jungle more than ever.
The story picks up with Baloo the bear (voiced by John Goodman) in Chapter 4. Baloo is trying to have a good time pretending Mowgli is still there, still singing and dancing with him. The stick figure he’s made up to resemble his missing man-cub is truly pathetic. Even Bagheera, who is watching from nearby, is concerned for the big bear. Later in this chapter, the audience sees that Shere Khan is still around too. When Shere Khan moves through the flock of birds, startling them and splitting them, another nice surround sound effect comes as the rush of noise comes first from the right front speaker, then the center speaker(s) and finally over to the left to follow the explosion of flying birds on the screen.
Meanwhile, Baloo has finally had it and decides to go visit the man-village and check on Mowgli. Bagheera tries to head Baloo off and ends up having to depend on the elephants to get the job done. Under the direction of their leader, the elephants form a line and cut Baloo off on the other side of the river. The elephant’s ponderous feet slam into the ground and echo through the subwoofer.
Chapter 5 reveals that Shere Khan, once mighty and feared throughout the jungle, has become a laughingstock. A team of vultures, looking and sounding just as much like the Beatles as they did in 1967, heckles Shere Khan unmercifully. Later, with Mowgli still stuck in his room, wind chimes on the left side of the screen tinkle through the left front speaker. A clank that jars through the right front speaker and will probably startle younger viewers. Mowgli spots Baloo and an excited and happy reunion takes place in the middle of the man-village.
Shere Khan has also made his way into the man-village and immediately sets to stalking Shanti. When she discovers Mowgli and Baloo playing together, she screams for help, believing that the bear is harming Mowgli. When the villagers respond to her cries, they discover the Bengal tiger among them and tense moments play out.
Unfortunately, Baloo gets unnerved and takes off across the river with Mowgli mounted securely on his shoulders. The villagers know Mowgli has disappeared into the jungle and don’t organize quickly enough to go after him to suit Shanti. She and Ranjan set out in pursuit, going deep into the jungle.
The comedic sequences with Kaa the Snake in Chapter 6 remind viewers who have seen the first movie of the danger in that tale. The snake also slithers into the clearing where Mowgli and Baloo are singing the trademark song of the two movies, “Bare Necessities.”
Shanti continues her search for Mowgli in Chapter 7. The bats and birds fluttering all around her snarl through the surround sound system like a cyclone in another good showing of why a home entertainment center is such a good idea. Chapter 8 has birds flying in front of Bagheera from right to left, and the sound flows effortlessly through the surround sound system in the same pattern. The marching elephants bring the subwoofer to vibrant life as they flee from the group of men that has ventured deep into the jungle in search of Mowgli.
In Chapters 13 and 14, Shere Khan and Mowgli battle once more. The tiger’s voice is awesome, ringing out through the surround sound system like he’s everywhere at once. The audience gets a real taste of what must be going through Mowgli’s mind as he faces his old opponent because they feel just as surrounded as he does.
“The Jungle Book 2,” although offered 30-plus years after the original movie, stands right up there with the first one. Other than some smoother animation effects, which could probably be taken care of with computer enhancements these days, there isn’t much difference in the movies. The time frame stands the test and the story genuinely seems to take place only a few days after the first movie. John Goodman’s riff on Phil Harris’ Baloo is true, a close approximation with a Goodman distinctiveness for the trained ear.
The extras on the DVD include a game for the kids that will be diverting more than entertaining even for the younger ages. The recap of the original movie is fantastic for introducing younger viewers (and even older ones) with the story thus far, although viewing of the original story on DVD is recommended. Many regard “The Jungle Book” as Walt Disney’s final work before he passed away, and as such is a legacy that the second generation of tale spinners readily acknowledges in the documentary contained on the disc.
Possessing all of the innate charm and wonder of its progenitor, “Jungle Book 2” is a definite collector’s item for families with small children. The upbeat music, the wildly loveable characters, a truly despicable villain, and the threat and wonder of the menace of the jungle combine to make a viewing experience that will bear and deserve repeated viewings. After all, “The Jungle Book 2” is one of the bare necessities for the movie lover’s shelves.