The Jungle Book 2

The Jungle Book 2 (2003)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: John Goodman, Haley Joel Osment
Extras: Featurette, Trivia Game, Sing-Alongs, Music Videos

Following in the footsteps of the original 1967 Walt Disney movie "The Jungle Book" is certainly no easy task, and yet, the studio tries. "The Jungle Book 2" is not a mere direct-to-video film, though. It is a feature film that ran in theaters to mediocre success and that now makes its DVD debut courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

Some time has passed since the ending of "The Jungle Book" and Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) is still living in the village were we left him. He has a little brother, Ranjan (Connor Funk), and is trying to enjoy his life among people, but the rules, the work, the obligations just keep dragging him down. One day he tries to show the other kids in the village the jungle – something that is strictly prohibited by the adults in the village because of the dangers of the jungle. Caught, Mowgli is confined to his room when his old friend, the bear Baloo (John Goodman), pays him a visit. But with him comes the tiger Shere Khan (Tony Jay) who still has a score to settle with the little "man-cub." Mowgli follows Baloo back into the jungle to leave his life among men behind him, but unbeknownst to him, his friend Shandi (Mae Whitman) and his brother Ranjan are trying to follow them and soon find themselves in grave danger.

"The Jungle Book 2" is a delightful, light-hearted and innocent movie full of infectious music and beautiful images. Although occasionally computer graphics were used to bring "The Jungle Book 2" to life, fortunately the art direction of the movie is masterfully done, integrating these elements without clashing with the traditional hand-painted material. As a result, the movie presents itself as a bright and lush canvas with some remarkable camera moves and richly detailed backgrounds.

But also the acting of the film stands out. Boasting an all-star cast, every part of the film is perfectly cast. The most outstanding performance clearly comes from young Haley Joel Osment, who brings Mowgli to mesmerizing life. Energetic, very distinct in his performance, Osment also sang the songs of Mowgli. Traditionally in the past, dedicated singing-voices were cast in these films, sometimes creating a bit of a rift between the talking and the singing voices. In this film, there is no such problem as most actors do their own singing parts – and exceedingly well so.
Also look out for a beautiful voice part by Phil Collins in the film that is in fact so impressive that I’d love to hear him lend his voice to more animated films.

The DVD contains an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie in its 1.66:1 aspect ratio. As expected, the transfer is absolutely clean and without even a hint of speckles or blemishes. The image is very detailed throughout, and the colors are rich and vibrant. No over-saturation is evident, and the transfer brings to life all the nuances of the production’s carefully put-together art direction. Black levels are every good, creating solid lines and well-defined shadows and blacks that never break up. Edges are sharp and well-defined, and no edge-enhancement is visible, giving the film a natural and pleasing quality. The compression has been handled equally well, ensuring that no compression artifacts are spoiling the experience.

The film is full of music and the DVD restores these songs – as well as the rest of the movie – in beautiful clarity. Surround usage is good and active, though not overly aggressive. The frequency response is very good with occasional very low rumbles, and high ends that are always clear and undistorted. Dialogues are well-integrated and sound very natural throughout. The DVD features <$DD,Dolby Digital> tracks, as well as an English <$DTS,DTS> version, which really brings out the best of the songs and adds another layer of transparency to the mix.

As bonus, the DVD contains a few extras that are well worth checking out. To start it off, there is a trivia game in which you take Mowgli through a maze ruin back to the village. Filled with animal-specific questions, this trivia game will make sure your child actually learns a few things while playing. Next up is a production featurette with a number of interviews. We get to meet the cast members as they talk about their parts and the voices they used, as well as some of the artists and filmmakers, as they discuss production specifics. I found this to be an very exciting featurette on the merit alone that it gives us the chance to see some of the voice-talent behind the movie. For years we have heard Jim Cummings’ voice in a countless productions – Winnieh the Pooh being one of them – and it is just great to finally be able to put a face to the voice. But also the approach the filmmakers took to make sure the movie will remain faithful to the original, are quite interesting.

There are also two deleted song-numbers that have been included on the disc. Using temp recordings and story board art, you get a good feel for these two songs, accompanied by an introduction by the filmmakers.

Given the number of songs in the film it is hardly surprising that Disney also included a section on the disc from which you can easily access each song directly, complete with sing-along lyrics. A selection of music video, including Smashmouth’s absolutely unnecessary treatment of "I Wanna Be Like You" can be found here.

"The Jungle Book 2" may not be as universally appealing as the original movie. It is clearly targeted at younger audiences – though remains enjoyable for adults as well for the most part. with a mere 70-minutes, the film is very short, and never really develops a real story. Once it’s over it feels as if we witnessed nothing but a really short episode in the life of Mowgli – too short maybe. Still, given the excellent quality of the release, the production and the music, I think it is a release the definitely deserves your attention.