"The Jungle Book 2" is visually appealing but is a narratively undernourished seventh feature release from Disney Television Animation's DisneyToon Studios which follows the likes of "Return to Never Land" and "The Tigger Movie" in having the feel of a direct-to-video title that's been upgraded to theatrical status.

When the Oscar-nominated tune “Bare Necessities” from the original 1967 “The Jungle Book” is reprised three times during the 72 minutes of this belated follow-up, the thought of padding springs all too readily to mind. This visually appealing but narratively undernourished seventh feature release from Disney Television Animation’s DisneyToon Studios follows the likes of “Return to Never Land,” “The Tigger Movie” and “Recess: School’s Out” in having the feel of a direct-to-video title that’s been upgraded to theatrical status in the hopes of wringing a few extra bucks out of it and improving its not-too-distant homevid marketability. As before, the ploy should work again. Pic opened Friday in France and Scandinavia, a week ahead of domestic release.

Original “Jungle Book,” based on Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli” stories, was the last feature personally supervised by Walt Disney before his death. Sequel picks up where the previous pic ended, with wolf-reared boy Mowgli (energetically voiced by Haley Joel Osment) having entered into regimented village life but remaining nostalgic for his carefree days with bear-pal Baloo (John Goodman) in the wilds. As his adoptive father observes, “You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.”

After Mowgli flaunts the rules by venturing back into the forest, his comely quasi-girlfriend Shanti (Mae Whitman) follows him, as do her antic little brother, parents and, it eventually seems, the entire village. In addition to Baloo, who jealously covets Mowgli’s attention in the face of competition from Shanti, other animal characters from the original resurface, including a protective panther, a Col. Blimpish elephant and family, a comically threatening snake, some vultures and monkeys and, most significantly, a predatory tiger, Shere Khan (made to sound like “The Lion King’s” Scar reincarnate by thesp Tony Jay).

The G rating notwithstanding, some quick cuts of beasts jumping into view will prove startling to small-fry. For their adult chaperones, there are pleasures to be found in the vibrant color schemes of the backgrounds. Animation, which combines traditional and computerized work, is agreeable, although the different visual planes utilized to produce a sense of three dimensions creates the look of a pop-up book at times.

Execution outdoes the material: More development and nuance in Karl Geurs’ script would have made a big difference. The two new songs, the jazz-oriented “Jungle Rhythm” and “W-I-L-D,” are perfunctory. No credit goes to Kipling or the 1967 screenwriters per se, although a tag notes that, “This film would not have been possible without the inspiration from the original motion picture and the work of its talented artists and animators.”

Film proper runs 66 minutes, followed by six minutes of end credits.

The Jungle Book 2

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation produced by DisneyToon Studios. Produced by Mary Thorne, Chris Chase. Directed by Steve Trenbirth. Screenplay, Karl Geurs.

Crew

(Technicolor); editors, Peter N. Lonsdale, Christopher Gee; music, Joel McNeely; original songs, Lorraine Feather, Paul Grabowsky; unit director, Andrew Collins; art director, Michael Peraza; additional written material, Carter Crocker, Evan Spiliotopoulos, David Reynolds, Roger S.H. Schulman, Tom Rogers; storyboard supervisor, Douglas Murphy; voice casting and dialogue director, Jamie Thomason; supervising sound editor (Dolby/SDDS/DTS), Ronald Eng. Reviewed at ABC screening room, Burbank, Feb. 6, 2003. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 72 MIN.

With

Voices: Baloo - John Goodman Mowgli - Haley Joel Osment Shanti - Mae Whitman Ranjan - Connor Funk Bagheera - Bob Joles Shere Khan - Tony Jay Ranjan's Father - John Rhys-Davies Kaa/Col. Hathi/M.C. Monkey - Jim Cummings Lucky - Phil Collins
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