"The Jungle Book 2" is, at its core, a movie for children. There is no hidden adult story line, not much sexual innuendo and very little dry humor. This makes it a little less fun for the adults than, say, "Shrek," but a reasonable charmer for the next generation of kids.
Cut to the song "Jungle Rhythm," a big-band number in minor key. After so many wonderful songs have come out of the Disney vault, kids can be discerning about which cute ditties they latch on to. And the music here, though at times toe-tapping, is uninspired. Osment's voice is weak and lacks emotion, so though the sound of the horns tells us that he feels "that jungle rhythm," we don't.
Once Mowgli gets back to the action of the jungle, however, the movie picks up. Adoptive-dad bear Baloo (John Goodman) comes to the village and whisks Mowgli back to the jungle. Shanti and Ranjan follow, assuming that they need to rescue Mowgli from a dangerous and ravenous bear. And Shere Khan, the fierce and determined tiger, seeks revenge on the boy-cub who once humiliated him.
Watching the siblings mine their way through this new world is good fun, and the animals in the jungle, as usual, are much more interesting that those mundane humans back in the village - and man, can they sing. When Shere Khan finally finds his prey, cornering Mowgli and Shanti, the scene is not frightening enough to give kids nightmares, but still enough to widen their eyes another inch or so - the perfect balance for a children's movie.
Some of the music, like the reprise of "Bare Necessities" that Baloo sings first by himself as he mopes around the jungle alone and then in a duet with Mowgli, is fun to hear. But, as often is the case, it's just not as good the second time around. Like the chorus of birds and deep-throated rhino - standby devices in countless animated musicals - the song is no longer original. Even for kids who never saw the first "Jungle Book," the song has so permeated pop culture that they too must be sick of it.
Goodman does a fine job voicing the pudgy and loveable bear Baloo, but he still sounds much like, well, John Goodman. Besides Baloo, Goodman gave us the voice of Sulley from "Monsters Inc." and Pacha from "The Emperor's New Groove."
In the end, as in the beginning, Mowgli must decide where he belongs - in the village or in the wild. This is a simple climactic moment for kids, but it opens the floodgate of metaphors for parents and is really the only scene in which adults can revel. Though the ending pitches a best-of-both-worlds scenario, some sharp kids may not buy it.
2 stars (out of 4)
"The Jungle Book 2"
Directed by Steve Trenbirth; produced by Mary Thorne, Chris Chase; written by Karl Geurs; art directed by Michael Peraza; edited by Peter N. Lonsdale, Christopher Gee; music by Joel McNeely, Lorraine Feather, Paul Grabowsky. Opens Friday, Feb. 14. Running time: 1:18. MPAA rating: G.
Baloo - John Goodman
Mowgli - Haley Joel Osment
Shanti - Mae Whitman
Ranjan - Connor Funk Shere Khan - Tony Jay
Allison Benedikt is a Chicago Tribune staff writer.