Junglebook2coverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  Not really
2002, 72 min., Color

Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Bonus features:  C-

Admit it, moms and dads. The minute you see a “2” or “II” on a Disney title, doesn’t it trigger a silent consumer alert somewhere in your buying brain?  Sure, The Return of Jaffar (that awful Aladdin direct-to-dumb video sequel) put everyone on guard. But since then, except for a Hercules follow-up with bargain-basement animation, the never-ending sequels have been mostly well done, even if they’re shadows of the original and about as original themselves as Saturday morning cartoons.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and the original 1967 Disney theatrical release of The Jungle Book has evolved from a minor studio success to a baby boomer classic that the new Disney crew wanted to re-do. This sequel ought to be a hit with young kids, but boomers and anyone over the age of 10 will find The Jungle Book 2 wanting. The characters giggle too much (as hyper-cute Saturday morning animated offerings will do), the music isn’t as well integrated into the story, and the humans come across like an Indian version of The Cosby Show

Purists (and children who have studied India in school) may object to the liberties the studio takes with the Rudyard Kipling story. I doubt that Kipling would have approved of The Lion King-like circle of volcanic fire that now rings a mysteriously rebuilt abandoned temple in the jungle, or that he would have agreed to having ocelots in India now, or tom-toms! But if you overlook such things (as kids will), the animation is actually superior to the original. Some of the backgrounds are breathtaking. The pacing is also snappier, and if the plot seems a bit thin or familiar, maybe it’s because it’s a near dead-ringer for the first film.

Junglebook2screenMowgli (voiced now by Haley Joel Osment) was apparently adopted by an Indian family and still thinks of Shanti (Mae Whitman), the girl who lured him away from the jungle at the end of the first film, as his best friend. But he’s sick of village rules and runs off to cavort again with his old bear buddy Baloo (John Goodman, replacing the late Phil Harris). Of course, once the tiger Shere Khan (Tony Jay) gets wind of the boy’s re-entry, he’s out to get him . . . again.

This time around there are no wolves to hide the boy or look out for him, and Bagheera the overprotective panther (Bob Joles) plays only a minor role, as do the villagers. It’s the Mowgli and Baloo show, with Shanti and Mowgli’s adoptive little brother Ranjan (Connor Funk) providing the contrasts and the laughs. Trauma is limited to one scary encounter, but no character dies. This is an upbeat movie suitable for younger children, and just as music made The Jungle Book distinctive, it’s what also drives the sequel—though it’s more of the Saturday variety. Still, if you study the animation of little Ranjan in particular you’ll see similarities to the animation style of Lilo & Stitch, the major animated feature Disney released in theaters the same year Jungle Book 2 arrived on home video.

You can really see a formula evolving out of Disney Sequel Land. Whether it’s Cinderella yearning to live the life of a commoner again, the Little Mermaid’s daughter drawn to the sea, or Mowgli missing the jungle, most of the follow-ups feature characters caught between two worlds and end with a compromise that allows them to have the best of both worlds. That’s not exactly a bad message to send and resend, given the number of non-traditional families out there. Sequels like The Jungle Book 2 just don’t have the same edge or originality as the theatrical releases, however, and that will make them appeal only to young children.