The Jungle Book 2 (2003)

If you’re a millennial like me, chances are your favorite Disney animated movie is reciprocal to the Disney sequel you hate the most. When Disney unleashed a flurry of sequels between 1994 to 2008, they made ones off their most popular animated films, and many not so popular. And while my generation grew up falling in love with Belle falling in love with the Beast, we squirm during the sequels with their sub-par animation quality and stories that don’t gel with the original story. The Beast had an organ player who tried to corrupt him with music? They retconned the fateful Enchantress’ visit to be on Christmas? A baby bird caused a massive dispute? And why was Belle willing to put up with the Beast’s crap when that was very clearly not the case in the first movie?!

The thing is the sequels were not made by the animation studio in Burbank. Most of them were made by the television animation studio, which had much, much smaller budgets and much, much tighter deadlines. It’s no surprise, then, the preoccupation was mostly on cranking out as many sequels as possible as fast as possible. This means that hundreds of passionate artists and writers were forced to make decisions that affect the film, and unwittingly make them the scapegoat for many an irate consumer. I have no doubt these men and women did their very best in trying to give fans the best experience, but when you’re given so little money and so little time, you’re not going to get Citizen Kane.

My favorite Disney animated film is 1967’s The Jungle Book. While it doesn’t possess the strongest narrative, it makes up for it with strong characters who work well off each other. So I was cautiously optimistic when I heard a sequel was coming out in theaters (The only sequel from the studio to do so aside from Return to Neverland in 2002). Once the DVD was out, I snatched it up and…well, read on.

Jam jauntily in the jungle for just a jumpin’ Jamboree!

The plot: It’s been days (Maybe even hours?) since Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) left the jungle to live in the Man Village, and he’s already under the care of his new adoptive father (John Rhys-Davies) and his new little brother Ranjan (Connor Funk). The girl who lured Mowgli in, now named Shanti (Mae Whitman) just kind of treats him like a weird friend she kind of has feelings for. Mowgli soon finds the Man Village is too restrictive and misses the jungle.

Coincidentally, Baloo (John Goodman) misses Mowgli something awful and decides to sneak into the Man Village, kidnap the Man cub, and run back to the jungle. After feeling the pressures of human society, Mowgli is all too happy to be with papa bear, unaware Shanti and Ranjan have followed, and are now lost in the wilderness, determined to save Mowgli.

Meanwhile, Shere Khan (Tony Jay) is back. And he’s not happy.

How’s the writing?: It’s not great. The ultimate issue in this franchise is it only really works when we see how these characters work off Mowgli. It’s part of the reason why I felt the show Jungle Cubs felt as awkward as it did. I love Hathi, Kaa, and Shere Khan, but they were at their best showing how they played off the lone human boy in their home. The only exception was Kaa and Shere Khan’s scene, but otherwise, the chemistry seems to fail when it comes to the others on each other.

But speaking of Mowgli, he’s very hard to root for. Mowgli is still kind of obnoxious, but at the same time, he seems to have matured a bit. Now he pulls pranks, conducts musical numbers, and holds steady conversations with Baloo. He’s not the whiny, self-centered child anymore, yet he still is at the same time. That’s not even adding they included some scenes where apparently Mowgli did, in fact, adopt some animal mannerisms. It’s all indicative of the script itself.

I don’t care for Mowgli’s attitude concerning Shanti and the village, where he resented them for chores, when that’s clearly not the case. His motivation gets even weaker when he starts to rethink how he feels about them. Child or not, it feels disorganized. I don’t care for the subplot involving Shanti and Ranjan because she’s too busy being scared of everything and he’s too busy acting like a reckless little tyke. I would have liked the subplot of Shere Khan prowling around the jungle, if it weren’t for Lucky (More on him later).

It’s hard to specify what went wrong exactly. Theoretically, it’s not a bad story, but I think since the original movie just let the characters be themselves without being hindered by narrative, it allowed them to breathe. Here, there’s a lot going on, and each one feels bogged down by purpose and motivation.

Does it give the feels?: Credit where credit’s due, they understood the most important aspect of The Jungle Book was the relationship between Baloo and Mowgli. Their relationship has changed from before, though. In the original, Mowgli just hung out with Baloo and just kind of watched what he did. Here, he holds actual conversations with the bear, and while I don’t think it’s bad, I do notice it and wonder how it changed. It’s also noticeable Baloo has become less of a big protector and more of a general buddy, which I suppose is intended to mean they’ve grown, but I don’t know.

What I do know is late in the movie, the two do genuinely share a tender moment. The newer animation allows a more detailed look at their emotions, but beyond that, I felt little of anything.

Who makes it worth it?: The character aspect really gets under my skin because there’s a lot that went askew here, but I still want to get out of the way the one character I think they actually improved on: Shere Khan.

Before, Khan had a general grudge against mankind due to their guns and fire, and he wanted to kill Mowgli before he could acquire them. It wasn’t personal, and he viewed killing the Man cub as a sport. But now, after Mowgli humiliated him, Shere Khan is super ticked off. The vultures won’t stop mocking him. He may be less haughty, but it’s understandable, given how his pride took such an immense blow. Tony Jay (Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s Frollo and TaleSpin‘s Shere Khan) continued to be the most perfect Shere Khan since Sanders. As a bonus, he was finally given real tiger sound effects, as opposed to Jimmy MacDonald’s vintage “growl in a glass jar” effect.

Hathi, the aloof, pompous elephant colonel of the jungle patrol, is relegated to Bagheera’s security force in preventing Baloo from going to the Man Village, and made dumber and more cowardly than we’ve ever seen him (And sadly, without his wife, Winifred). Kaa has always been a fan favorite, but now made goofier with a lot of slapstick at his expense, now devoid of the inherent menace he once had. The vultures are there…just to stand around and stop Lucky from making fun of Shere Khan.

Lucky? Oh yeah. In the first movie, four vultures, who were actually inspired by the Beatles, were there to support Mowgli when he was feeling alone and later, helped save him from Shere Khan. In this movie, a fifth vulture was added, voiced by Phil Collins (Were the Tarzan and Brother Bear checks just not big enough, Phil?), whose entire purpose is to make fun of the tiger. His jokes are so bad they’re meant to be funny, but they’re not funny, not even ironically. The other vultures start off by laughing at his jokes, but end up trying to shut him up, especially when he tells Shere Khan where to find Mowgli. Not only does the movie only tease us in making us think he killed Lucky, but the other four don’t appear again to help Mowgli like they did before.

Then there’s King Louie. He isn’t in the movie. According to sources, Louis Prima voiced Louie in the original, and his widow, Gia Prima, sued Disney for unpaid royalties over videocassette sales (This happened frequently in the nineties, since the early contracts couldn’t predict the rise of home video and stars like Mary Costa and Peggy Lee came to Disney to demand fair compensation). I found Gia also sued Darden and Campbell for ads featuring impersonations of her late husband, so while can’t find many details on the settled case with her and Disney, I’m guessing that was the case here. See, it’s the only reason I can think of why we had Louie in TaleSpin and Jungle Cubs, but by 2003, we got Louie’s twin brother Larry (Voiced by Jim Cummings, the same man who voiced Louie in TaleSpin) with a very different voice in House of Mouse, and in The Jungle Book 2, he “splitsville”, as Baloo put it. And it’s a shame, since after Baloo, Louie was the biggest star of The Jungle Book.

We may have gotten characters like Ranjan and Lucky, but at the cost of the King of the Swingers? Not cool.

Best quality provided: The original isn’t perfect, I’ll cop to that. So much like The Simpsons or Family Guy, the best I can say is the animation quality is improved. Unlike most of the other sequels, the animation is smoother and more detailed, allowing for more natural and fluid movement.

What could have been improved: First, the color saturation.

From what I understand, the higher ups wanted the colors to be more and more saturated, for reasons that seem unclear. This led to the colors popping to an uncomfortable degree. The most notable difference is Baloo went from being dark gray with white eyes to being almost cyan blue with yellow eyes. It’s an aesthetic choice that, I think, was made to try to appeal to kids (The trailer itself advertised the movie with: “A big bear, a wild child, a cool cat, and a little jungle boogie”), but ultimately fails to capture the earthy tones of the original film. Mowgli has decidedly more Caucasian skin, Shere Khan was more neon orange, Kaa was oddly rendered seafoam green and light blue instead of his usual olive and brown, and even the elephants were much paler than before. I don’t necessarily dock the movie points for “not being like the original”, but as far as I was concerned, the heavy brown and green tones complimented the characters, giving the jungle a more grounded feel. Despite the rather cartoony characters, it helped them pop onscreen. But when everything is brighter, the contrast is lessened and becomes less pleasing to the eye.

Then there are the songs. The original dipped into various musical stylings to create a diverse soundtrack, from jazz to dixieland, from an unused Mary Poppins song to a barber shop quartet as sung by the Beatles. This was thanks to the great Sherman brothers and Terry Gilkyson. But the songs used here, specifically “Jungle Rhythm” and “W-I-L-D” have no true identity on their own and are written very clumsily. Worse still, they don’t make sense for their characters, since Mowgli wouldn’t lead a bunch of kids into a street party, nor would Baloo care much to conduct a wild party about how fun animals are. Say nothing of Smash Mouth’s terrible rendition of “I Wan’na be Like You”.

Had it been up to me, I’d have suggested the songs “Baloo’s Blues” and “It’s a Kick”, two songs written by the Sherman brothers and used on the 1969 record album More Jungle Book, which was made to see if a sequel was a viable option. This might have lent itself an air of legitimacy and added some character to the songs.

Verdict: There’s a lot about this movie that just flat-out annoys me. As much as I love The Jungle Book, a sequel is hard to put together, because the encounters between Mowgli and the animals only really work in a limited capacity.

I drafted a fan story years ago based on the idea that Mowgli, Baloo, Kaa, Hathi, and Shere Khan all got captured by a circus and all struggled with their own conflicts (Kaa is hypnotized himself by a snake charmer, Baloo performs way too well because he gets food, Shere Khan finds humans aren’t afraid of him, Hathi’s only fellow elephants are flippant young girls who don’t listen to him, etc.), but as much as I wanted to make this work, I realized just how easy it is to use these characters but losing something special. Once they become fixed on motivation and character arcs, they lose that sense of fun we remember them for.

As is, the movie feels like it was trying to be sincere for the most part, but between the bright colors, the bland songs, the mediocre voice acting, and the source material working against it, it was a tough act to follow. I have to give credit to the writers and artists who tried to make this work, but I don’t consider this one of the better Disney sequels. I give this one three paw paws out of ten.

Here’s hoping Favreau pulls off that Jungle Book sequel that’s currently in development.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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