The only possible reason that this 72-minute abomination didn’t go to its proper direct-to-video home is the one quantity for which Disney is better known than family entertainment: greed.
The original 1967 Jungle Book wasn’t one of the studio’s more shining moments to begin with, but next to first-time director Steven Trenbirth’s sequel, the original is the equal of Snow White, Dumbo and Pinocchio all rolled together. It’s not very surprising to find that Trenbirth was previously director of animation on a slew of Disney products for the home-video market, since the level of animation here is closer to that of Saturday-morning TV than it is to classic Disney. And that’s just the tip of the mediocrity iceberg. Take the script — please.
It’s said that if you lock a hundred monkeys in a room with typewriters, one of them will eventually write Hamlet. Jungle Book 2, on the other hand, proves that if you lock one screenwriter (Karl Geurs of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) in a room with five people supplying what is called “additional material,” you end up with so much monkey dung. (Rudyard Kipling, on whose book all this is based, managed to have his name taken off the credits from beyond the grave, proving that in death he has a savvier agent than those responsible for this script.)
There’s virtually no story: Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment, apparently determined to find a follow-up worthy of his turn as the voice of Beary in The Country Bears) leaves civilization for a stint in the jungle because he misses his old animal buddies, especially Baloo the bear (voiced by John Goodman, doing an adequate Phil Harris impression), only to find that the evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Tony Jay, who appears to specialize in sounding more like the late George Sanders than George Sanders) is seeking revenge for having been made a fool of in the last film. (Little does Shere Khan know that he’s being made an even bigger fool of by agreeing to be in this movie; any self-respecting animated tiger would refuse to get out of the inkwell for this.) That’s about it in terms of plot.
The bulk of the movie is given over to some lame songs (presented in even lamer production numbers) and about a zillion reprises of the 1967 film’s “Bare Necessities.” The whole concept is tired and uninspired, which isn’t much of a shock since it relies so completely on having voice talent impersonate the 35-year-old contributions of actors long since departed — Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, J. Pat O’Malley, Sterling Holloway (the credits don’t even bother telling you who impersonates him). Even people who aren’t dead find themselves victims of impressions. Chad Stuart — of Chad and Jeremy fame — is conjured up by Phil Collins. The effect is what you might get if you attempted to remake Dracula with Rich Little as Bela Lugosi.
It’s not that there’s no talent here. It’s that all the talent is at the service of attempting to duplicate someone else’s work. There’s one good self-critiquing moment when Kaa (voiced by the unnamed Sterling Holloway impersonator) complains, “I hate these song-and-dance numbers,” and there’s one bright moment of Disneyesque terror when Shere Khan grabs Lucky the vulture (Phil Collins) by the throat and says, “Isn’t it ironic that your name is Lucky?” (Unfortunately, this last bit is a cheat, and the more-annoying-than-funny bird emerges unharmed about a reel later.)
I suppose if you’re an undemanding 5-year-old (or Britney Spears, who recently opined, “Sundance is weird. … You actually have to think about [the movies] when you watch them”), there might be passable entertainment to be found here. Sophisticated 6-year-olds, on the other hand, might want to be wary. That, of course, is what’s really wrong here. Walt himself knew he was in the business of making family entertainment; the folks in charge here have made a kiddie movie and nothing else.