After last year’s Return to Neverland, Disney continues to trick audiences into seeing its straight-to-video titles on the big screen. Some 36 years after Mowgli left the jungle to join the human race, the wily man-cub still doesn’t look a day over 12. That’s because The Jungle Book 2 picks up shortly where its predecessor left off, with Mowgli repeatedly entertaining the natives with tales of how he defeated mean ol’ Shere Khan, who’s now hellbent on getting back at the prepubescent rascal (voiced by the prepubescent Hayley Joel Osment, last “heard” from in Disney’s hideous Country Bears). Though Mowgli high-tailed it out of the jungle, he’s still got Baloo (John Goodman) and the creatures of the jungle in his heart, all of whom come to the rescue when Shere Khan (Tony Jay) and Baloo penetrate the human village on the same night and chaos subsequently ensues. Mowgli looks for his jungle groove while his little girlfriend Shanti (Mae Whitman) and baby Ranjan (Connor Funk) follow in hot pursuit, and though the story is still set in India and the girls and women sport bindis on their foreheads, the film’s human creations may as well be refugees from Beauty and the Beast in brown face. If these whitewashed characters lack for authenticity, so does the landscape. The geographical split between the jungle and the human village doesn’t even allude to India’s struggle for freedom against the British (even the song “Colonel Hathi’s March” could pass for a U.S. Army recruitment anthem). Young kids may not mind that Jungle Book 2 is shamelessly apolitical, but parents who grew up on the ho-hum but obviously superior original may find the sequel both anticlimactic and obscenely redundant. Indeed, how many times can we hear “Bare Necessities” performed in one movie? Kaa says it best: “I so despise these song and dance routines.”
Image and sound is spic and span for the most part (digital artifacts are evident around the smallest objects), but the vibrant look of the film makes me nostalgic for the original film's more muted color design.
What justifies Jungle Book 2 getting this new Special Edition? Apparently the addition of one-count 'em, one!-interactive game: Mowgli's Story Time Adventure, which is almost as hard to play as Mowgli's Jungle Ruins Maze. The rest are carryovers from the 2003 disc: two deleted scenes that never made it past the initial animation stage, three music videos (including Smash Mouth's "I Wanna Be Like You"!), a synopsis (read: trailer) of the original film and "look" at its legacy (it has a legacy?), and a lazy excuse of a Music & More section, which allows you to skip directly to the song-and-dance sequences and whose "sing with the movie" option only allows you to see subtitles when the characters are singing.
Given that this new DVD is an almost exact facsimile of the 2003 disc, they should have just called it the "I Wanna Be Like You" Edition.