At this point, it seems inevitable that Disney will roll out cheapie sequels to all of its best-loved animated classics; last year alone saw weak follow-ups to Peter Pan, Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and Cinderella, while 101 Dalmatians 2 and Mulan II are already on their way, following fast on the heels of The Jungle Book 2. The mostly direct-to-video sequels generally follow one of two patterns: Either the original movie's protagonists reprise their adventures, or their adorable, big-eyed children learn their own life lessons in turn. Either way, the sequels tend to feel like once-funny jokes repeated too many times, or stories inexpertly re-told by an eager kid aping a more assured parent. Jungle Book 2 fits neatly into the first of the two plot patterns. In the original Jungle Book, an orphan boy named Mowgli was raised and protected by a wolf-pack, a devil-may-care bear named Baloo, and a fussy panther named Bagheera, who insisted that Mowgli needed to be with his own kind, in part to protect him from the oily, murderous tiger Shere Khan. Mowgli disagreed, until he caught his first glimpse of a doe-eyed human girl. As Jungle Book 2 begins, Mowgli (now voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is chafing under the weight of his hasty decision to leave the jungle, though he still has the prepubescent hots for the girl. Meanwhile, Baloo (an aptly but unimaginatively cast John Goodman) still wants to perform musical numbers with Mowgli, while Shere Khan (Tony Jay) still wants to kill him. Like everyone else in the jungle, they seem to be in a rut. Whenever Jungle Book 2 threatens to develop its own plot or sense of identity, a character or two from the original movie rushes out to perform a hollow bit of business stolen from the first film. The Liverpudlian vultures, Kaa the python, King Louie the orangutan's monkey chorus, and Colonel Hathi and his klutzy elephant corps are all trotted out on cue to do more of what they did in Jungle Book, only with more hyper energy, and to less effect. To drive the point home, they all echo lines or song cues from Jungle Book, though Baloo takes the prize in the grating-repetition department, with no fewer than three reprises of his classic song "The Bare Necessities." The best thing about Jungle Book 2 is the animation, which overuses its impressive shadowing effect, but still aptly and accurately captures the original characters' movements and facial expressions, while adding extra color and detail. But even the animation is imitative rather than inventive. Jungle Book 2 does include a couple of original songs and a few new characters (including an annoying vulture voiced by Phil Collins and an even-more-annoying lisping human toddler), but mostly it's just a sorry set of insistent stand-up impressions of its predecessor. And when it runs out of ways to reprise the original Jungle Book, it coyly reprises its own song cues and catchphrases. "Oh, no, not again," Bagheera wails pathetically at one point, just before becoming the butt of yet another bit of sadistic slapstick. He speaks for all of us.
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