Did the world need The Jungle Book 2? Was The Jungle Book an unfinished opus? Were there loose ends that needed to be tied up?
No, no, and no.
Lost in the Jungle
The Jungle Book 2 takes place very soon after the end of its predecessor. Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), who was raised by wolves and a friendly bear named Baloo (John Goodman), is still a boy. He was found by civilization at the end of the first movie and is now living in a village.
The girl he followed there is named Shanti (Mae Whitman). She’s part sister, part potential girlfriend to Mowgli. Their little brother Ranjan (Connor Funk) is a three-year-old “handful” who’ll probably grow up to be the village bully.
The village elder rules that children aren’t allowed to cross the river into the jungle, because “the jungle is a dangerous place.” But Mowgli’s very nature refuses to see the river as a dividing line or the jungle as dangerous. He gets in trouble when he unthinkingly starts walking across the ford into the jungle, leading a trail of children singing a song. Mowgli gets punished and confined to his room.
Baloo, meanwhile, misses his old pal Mowgli and decides to head to the man-village to see how the kid is doing. The kid is fine, but he misses Baloo, too, and they decide to sneak out of the village for a bender in the jungle. Shanti and Ranjan see Mowgli leave with a strange bear and stealthily follow them out of the village to see if they can rescue Mowgli from the “hostile” bear.
Rather than an interesting conflict, the movie has a villain, the tiger Shere-Khan (Tony Jay). With three kids lost in the jungle and a villainous tiger on the prowl, the film finally has some direction. But this direction is predictable, and so is its Disney resolution, complete with the convenient (implied) death of the villain at the end.
Cheap, Lazy, and Uninspired
The Jungle Book 2 feels like a movie made by people who wanted to make a movie but couldn’t think of any ideas. “I’ve always liked The Jungle Book,” one of them probably said. “Good, let’s go with that,” came the probable reply. “We’ll get John Goodman to sing ‘The Bear Necessities,’ and see if Haley Joel Osment can do Mowgli.” “I liked that song; let’s have him sing it more than once.”
In other words, The Jungle Book 2 feels like a tribute, a cover version of Disney’s original tune. But the fact that this cover is also made by Disney makes the whole experience feel cheap, uninspired, and lazy. Even the reprise of the old songs from the first movie shows a brazen sort of laziness. (There are some new songs too, but they’re not as catchy or as memorable as the first ones.) Disney could be doing so much more with its resources than spitting out remakes, clones, and sequels. Shame on them for doing so little with all this talent.
That’s not to say that sequels don’t have their place. An inspired sequel will work hard to justify its existence. Some have even added a new dimension to the world of the first film. Unfortunately, most sequels, including this one, don’t bother with anything new and are simply content just be a licensed remake.
That’s Okay, It’s for Kids
Bad quality is tolerated if a movie is made “for kids,” as though junk food is somehow more innocuous when a child eats it. The Jungle Book 2 is likely to benefit from this misguided generosity, which is too bad, because it doesn’t deserve it.
Rent the 1967 original and leave this sequel to the wolves.