- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Mowgli, that incorrigible but lovable little noble savage from Disney's "The Jungle Book," is back. And he sounds like Haley Joel Osment.
No offense to Haley Joel the young man is a fine actor but in "The Jungle Book 2," his irritatingly prim voice saps Mowgli of all the vim and vigor, all the untamed gusto, that a "man-cub" should exude.
Call me a populist, but Mowgli, the boy who had to be cajoled into leaving the jungle for civilization, should not sound like a New England boarding-school student.
But that's a grown-up quibble. The kiddies will thoroughly enjoy "Jungle Book 2," a sequel to "The Jungle Book," the 1967 Disney animation classic adapted from Rudyard Kipling's late-19th-century novel.
Disney has done a wonderful job of reproducing the visual quality of the original "Jungle" in this follow-up, originally slated for a direct-to-video release. The old-school, retro animation is a bracing contrast to the increasingly sophisticated technology that has given us movies such as "Shrek."
King Louie, alas, doesn't appear in "The Jungle Book 2," apparently because of royalty disputes between Disney and the widow of the late Louis Prima, the original voice of the ape character in 1967.
All the rest of the "Jungle" crew, though, is back, including Baloo the song-and-dance bear, Bagheera the kindly panther and Lucky the vulture.
Director Steve Trenbirth ("Aladdin and the King of Thieves," "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride") doesn't do too much plotwise with "2" and keeps the running time crisp, ensuring that the youngsters don't get squirmy.
Feeling hemmed in by the workaday routines of village life and chafed by his adopted father's stern warnings about crossing the river into the wild, Mowgli decides to stay with Baloo in the jungle after a narrow scrape with Shere Khan, the bloodthirsty tiger whom he outwitted in the first "Jungle Book."
Tony Jay (the voice of Monsieur D'Arque in "Beauty and the Beast") is smartly diabolical in his take on Shere Khan: He sounds cunning and remorseless in a way that won't seem overly scary to children.
Rock star Phil Collins, as the voice of the wagon-breaking Lucky, provides comic relief as he chides the feral tiger for letting Mowgli escape his clutches.
The real delight of "2" is John Goodman in the voice of Baloo. Mr. Goodman seems sort of like Baloo in real life big, fun-loving and unmenacing so he's a perfect fit.
In one clever scene that may sail over the little ones' heads, someone spots Baloo, whom Mowgli has snuck into the village, and screams, "Wild animal."
"Where?" Baloo asks and promptly beats a retreat.
Mr. Goodman is not a bad singer, either. He's not good, by any means, but on the bouncy, show-tune-ish number "Bare Necessities," Baloo's trademark celebration of simple jungle life, Mr. Goodman is a competent crooner.
On the other hand, Haley Joel's wavering vocal chops need a bit of work. As Mowgli pines for Shanti, his best friend and budding love interest, during a down-tempo "Jungle Rhythm," the wunderkind star of "The Sixth Sense" and "Pay It Forward" betrays his tone-deafness.
There's little time for singing, though on pitch or otherwise as Shere Khan is on the prowl.
With Shanti and the rest of the village searching for the wayward Mowgli, Baloo and his man-cub sidekick eventually wind up at the ruin a broken-down ziggurat of the absent King Louie.
Shere Khan is outsmarted, again, but the wily tiger lives on.
Maybe he'll get another shot at Mowgli in 2030, when another generation of children can experience anew one of Disney's best creations.

TITLE: "The Jungle Book 2"
RATING: G (Nothing objectionable, but small children may be slightly spooked by non-cuddly jungle animals, such as snakes and bats.)
CREDITS: Directed by Steve Trenbirth. Produced by Christopher Chase and Mary Thorne. Original music by Joel McNeely. Adapted from the 1894-95 children's novel by Rudyard Kipling.
RUNNING TIMES: 78 minutes.

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