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'Jungle Book 2'

'Jungle Book 2' is a tame trip to Tarzania

Friday, February 14, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Mowgli has been domesticated -- or so it seems -- in the village where he lives with his new man-family and friends. He and Shanti, the big-eyed girl who wooed him from the jungle 36 years ago, have settled into a kind of cozily bickersome prepubescent married life. Sigh ... Mowgli pines for good ol' buddy Baloo bear, who thinks of himself as a party (rather than a wild) animal.

 
 
'THE JUNGLE BOOK

RATING: G

VOICES: Haley Joel Osment, John Goodman

DIRECTOR: Steve Trenbirth

   
 

You can take the boy out of the jungle but not vice versa, we are reminded -- a bit too often -- in "Jungle Book 2." When Mowgli sneaks back into Tarzania, it's a race to see who'll find him and his sidekicks first -- the family search party or the hungry tiger still looking for him from the original animated adventure.

Speaking of which, you may or may not recall, that 1967 original (with the late, lamented voices of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders and Sterling Holloway) was the last animated film Walt Disney personally supervised. It featured a hit song called "The Bare Necessities," which is reprised in this sequel to good effect. Nicely rendered, too, with Busby Berkeley-style choreography, is "W-I-L-D," showcasing 100 different animals.

Some of the routines -- especially "Jungle Rhythm" -- are charmingly reminiscent of '30s Cab Calloway tunes (or the Marx Brothers' "Who Dat Man?"), now considered slightly racist. But who am I, the racial correctness police? Blame Kipling, not Disney, and credit the studio for keeping those dark Indian skins and turbans intact.

Also credit Haley Joel Osment (Mowgli), John Goodman (Baloo), John Rhys-Davies, Phil Collins, et al. for their pleasant vocal talents, and director Steve Trenbirth for many amusing touches: Baloo's Army camouflage outfit is funny, as are the vultures' Liverpool accents. My personal favorite is the too tightly coiled snake with his s-s-succulent s-s-sibilant S's.

But the script is pretty talky, and the kids aren't laughing it up uproariously. Bottom line of this "JB2" reprise: It's perfectly nice, tame stuff for the wee ones -- but 11-and-up ones may get a little restless.

P.S.: Speaking of reprises, how about a reprise of the ORIGINAL original -- the 1942 live-action film starring Sabu and Rosemary DeCamp (two names rarely linked). I remember it from 50 years ago as very exciting. In my second-childhood dotage, I'm ready for another go-round. Somebody find and screen it, will ya?

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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