The Jungle Book 2

(2003) * 1/2 Unrated
72 min. Walt Disney. Director: Steven Trenbirth. Cast: John Goodman, Haley Joel Osment, Mae Whitman, Connor Funk, Bob Joles.

No one over the age of 12 takes seriously sequels to Disney's animated classics. Though hardly a world-beater, last year's Peter Pan sequel Return to Never Land proved a surprisingly endearing exception to Disney's B-team product, designed for home video but increasingly graduated to the big screen. Titles like Toy Story 2 were given the bump to the big screen once their quality became apparent. Titles like The Jungle Book 2--the sequel to 1967's animated romp The Jungle Book--can only have found their way to the big screen due to felicitous timing and visions of dollar signs dancing in executive heads.

The Jungle Book doesn't lend itself to a sequel, but The Jungle Book 2 parades out the old characters and trots out the old Oscar-nominated war-horse "The Bare Necessities" (lyrics by Phil Harris & Bruce Reitherman, music by Terry Gilkyson) no less than three times. But nostalgia and the low expectations of an undemanding audience are all the movie have going for it. Mowgli, the jungle boy turned village-dweller, is now voiced by Haley Joel Osment (between this and last year's voicing of The Country Bears, can we assume Haley has reached that "awkward" age, and takes the paychecks where he can get 'em?).

The jungle-bound bear Baloo--now voiced by John Goodman--misses "Little Britches," so despite the exhortations of the panther Bagheera, Baloo heads into town. Meanwhile, Mowgli longs to get his groove back (we know this from the tin-eared, over-designed new production number "Jungle Rhythm"). Fetching village girl Shanti threatens to make a man of the Man-Cub, while ever-pissy tiger Shere Khan (now voiced by the velvety Tony Jay) stalks Mowgli even more creepily than Baloo. The militaristic elephants and Beatle-accented vultures reappear (one voiced by Phil Collins), as does the bumbling, mesmeric snake Kaa (Jim Cummings), the only character with whom the animators seem to have any fun (dig those hypno-eyes!).

The Jungle Book 2, at a deceptively fleet but seemingly endless 72 minutes, feels spackled together by bits of score and reprises of "The Bare Necessities." The natives (children) who packed the preview screening I saw were decidedly restless for most of the film, but were occasionally drawn in by flurries of production-number movement (the aforementioned "Jungle Rhythm" and a swing number called "W-I-L-D" are, poorly, storyboarded in the hyperkinetic "Be Our Guest" mold). The plot meanders like a circular theme park ride--perhaps Disneyland's old "Jungle Cruise"--and makes less sense (will someone please explain to me what a red-hot lava pit is doing in this jungle?).

When Bagheera bemoans, "Oh, no, not again," many a parent will whisper, "Amen, brother." This creatively bankrupt product may be otherwise inoffensive as a babysitter, but it's a long way from its animated predecessor (the last animated feature supervised by Walt Disney), and an even longer way from Rudyard Kipling. But I suppose it's only a stone's throw from Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, so what the hey.

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