“You can take the boy out of the jungle.” “But you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.”
In 1967 Walt Disney Pictures released The Jungle Book. It is considered a classic and is held dear by many at the studio since it is the last movie that can boast Walt Disney’s involvement almost through to the completion of the picture. Fast forward to 2003 and it’s time for the sequel. And now over a decade later The Jungle Book 2 (Blu-ray) hits shelves.
The story continues on from the end of The Jungle Book. Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense) is living in the man-village with toddler Ranjan (Connor Funk) and Ranjan’s family, including his father (John Rhys-Davies, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). In the village Mowgli must abide by lots of rules and do chores, and while he has Ranjan and Shanti (Mae Whitman, Parenthood) as his friends he misses the jungle and especially his “papa-bear” Baloo (John Goodman, Monsters University). When Mowgli tries to bring some of his jungle beat to the boring chores he has to do he gets the village children fired up but then the party comes crashing down and he’s grounded. When Shere Khan (Tony Jay, ReBoot) is spotted in the village Baloo spirits Mowgli back to the jungle. But when Shanti and Ranjan follow then Mowgli must decide which path to take, and his decision is compounded when Shere Khan tracks him down seeking revenge.
The Jungle Book 2 has a few problems with its story. It spends almost the entirety of its runtime acting as though The Jungle Book never happened, which is especially odd since the current story seems to take place mere days after the first film. None of the events of The Jungle Book 2 would happen if the people from the “man-village” would simply remember Mowgli is from the jungle. We can estimate his age at no more than 14, so while he is a young boy he has still spent years in the jungle being raised by a bear and a panther, with other jungle creatures serving as his social group. Why then is he treated as though he should understand how the rest of the humans live, especially the family who has taken him in?
We see Mowgli attempt to bring some jungle boogie to his daily chores and he is grounded for his trouble. Worse, he only gets into trouble because Shanti, the young girl who lured him away from the jungle at the end of The Jungle Book, tattles on him. The man-village isn’t really made out to be a place Mowgli belongs, and his eventual choice of residing there is based on his feelings for Shanti, who simply isn’t a strong enough character to warrant such devotion beyond early hormones. In fact too little of The Jungle Book 2 is strong enough and that can be traced directly to an abandonment of what made The Jungle Book work. Indeed this is the same factor most other Disney movies we collectively consider “classics” share. And that is the sweetness inherent is made even more so by the bitter. That Happily Ever After is earned through sacrifice. Our hero gives something up in order to gain the ultimate prize. Their journey resonates because of what has been lost along the way.
At the end of The Jungle Book, we feel Baloo and Mowgli’s shared pain as Mowgli leaves the jungle behind and embraces a chance at a new life. We know the jungle is too dangerous for him and he deserves a chance to experience life with his species. That bittersweet ending also reverberates during The Lion King (a movie that owes a lot to The Jungle Book.) We want to roar alongside Simba as he assumes leadership of The Pridelands, knowing his ascension came at the loss of his father.
Now I readily admit this current generation of kids aka the target audience will not understand this dilemma. Never before in history has there been the possibility of being able to communicate with literally any person on the planet like there is now. Back when the Golden Age of Disney movies was in full throttle the reality of life was sometimes there were people you were going to have to say goodbye to forever in order to pursue your dreams. That is obviously something we can now refer to as a quaint notion. So yes, when approaching The Jungle Book 2 it makes no sense to keep everyone apart when the underlying message seems to be working together is what will help you solve life’s dilemmas.
However it wasn’t taken to the extreme it I wanted it to be and fell short of effectiveness. If you are going to sanitize something sanitize it the whole way. Shanti is scared of the jungle yet she is saved from an attack by Kaa the snake (voiced by the wonderful Jim Cummings, Darkwing Duck) and Shere Khan, the main villain, is never proven to be more than a shadowy threat. Shere Khan commits no heinous acts nor does any harm befall anyone while in the jungle.
So why didn’t the film makers go the route the film seemed to be taking and bring both the man-village and the jungle together, demonstrating the strengths of both and how together they can become greater than the sum of their parts? Why instead end the film with Shanti, Mowgli, and Ranjan engaging in a secret return to the jungle to visit Baloo in what we the audience knows is something Ranjan’s parents know is happening? There’s a way these visits begin however we are never shown or told what it is, just a throwaway line of dialogue Baloo says about having an idea. What idea? How did you convince them to come back, when the previous scene was a tearful goodbye (again) between Baloo and Mowgli? Why don’t we get to see it? When we aren’t shown or at the very least told then we cannot understand and that is disappointing.
Yes you get to return to the jungle, to King Louie’s abode and the like. You can also delight in the musical numbers, including a new rendition of “The Bear Necessities” and enjoy the updated look to these familiar characters and surroundings. I don’t find the story to be one which works for me however I fully acknowledge my own backstory which colors my perception. Today’s generation of kids may very well fall in love with The Jungle Book 2.
The animation is very reminiscent of a Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon. There are extremely beautiful palette choices here, especially the oranges which populate the backgrounds. They are brought out to their best effect in Shere Khan’s scenes, and speaking of the tiger care was taken to ensure his eyes would stay a consistently creepy yellow throughout, no matter the timing of the shots. It was a wise move and very effective to add a sense of needed menace to his character. My only issue with the animation is the lack of connection between the characters and the backgrounds. At times they feel as though they are occupying two different planes, that they don’t inhabit the same physical world and it was a bit jarring. This is not something the target audience will care about or even notice but that’s why I’m here. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio is an unusual one for a Blu-ray video transfer, especially one digitized into 1080p HD. It took a few minutes but the aspect ratio wasn’t something I focused on beyond an initial acknowledgement of the difference from the expected 1.78:1 ratio.
Audio is a lovely 5.1 DTS-HD track and it provides all the soundscape you could ask for. This is a music-rich film, not just in terms of musical numbers but in score as well. The musical numbers are many and the track allows for a truly well-balanced harmony between the backgrounds, key vocal tracks and instruments. Additional language tracks are available in Dolby 5.1 (French, Spanish), as is a 2.0 Stereo track in English.
Disney definitely put some oomph into this release in terms of special features. They include deleted scenes, sing-along videos, music videos, and featurettes. That’s in addition to standard def DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.
If you love The Jungle Book, I would approach The Jungle Book 2 with guarded expectations. The message isn’t the same though the characters and settings are for the most part. You will see well-done animation and get to hear a new rendition of “The Bear Necessities” which might be enough to convince you to purchase. There are plenty of special features and today’s kids who love films set in this type of setting (like The Lion King) may also love this addition to the ever-increasing Disney collection.