The direct to video Disney sequel era was a rather strange time. Between 1993 and 2008, Disney decided to put out some sequels to their beloved classics made by Walt Disney Animation Studios that went straight to video. These films mostly came from their animation studio DisneyToon Studios and they mostly were pretty bad as they lacked the charm that the classics had and just felt like a way for Disney trying to squeeze money out of parent's pockets. Two of those films happened to get a theatrical release and one of those two films was "The Jungle Book 2". While the original 1967 film was filled with a lot of charm and wit that made it a classic, this sequel has none of it and is rather a boring experience that lacks the fun the original had while not bringing any new tricks to the table. It's one of those films that I struggled to understand how it got released in theaters.
Sometime after the events of the first film, Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) has been living in the man-village with his adopted younger brother Ranjan (Connor Funk) and friend Shanti (Mae Whitman), the girl who lured him into the village in the first place. Mowgli has gotten somewhat bored of life in the man village and dreams of going back to the jungle though his adoptive father (John Rhys-Davies) forbids it feeling that it's dangerous. Meanwhile in the jungle, Baloo (John Goodman) missing Mowgli badly, decides to sneak into the man-village to retrieve him despite protests from Bagheera (Bob Joles), and he and Mowgli escape happily into the jungle, only being seen by Shanti and Ranjan. With the man village looking for it, Mowgli becomes conflicted about staying in the jungle or returning to his home not knowing that the fearsome Shere Khan (Tony Jay) has returned to the jungle hungry for revenge after being humiliating by Mowgli.
I went into this film with rather low expectations and even I was surprised at how unimpressive this film was. While watching the film, I kept thinking back to the magic and fun the first film had and found very little in this sequel that didn't warrant a theatrical release whatsoever. The sad thing was that I could see the potential for another "Jungle Book" film. Rudyard Kipling wrote tons of continuing stories with Mowgli and his adventure with characters in the jungle and knowing they're in the public domain, Disney shouldn't have had any trouble taking inspiration for new ideas. Instead, the story we got rather retreads on scenes from the first film and takes characters back to old locations while also not really giving the characters anything new to do. The first film was about bravery and overcoming fear as Mowgli was scared of going to the man village and characters he meets along the way playing around with Mowgli's thoughts. This film doesn't do anything unique and rather simply recycles scenes from the first film while not having the fun as it should. It's also frustrating that the film doesn't do anything interesting to flesh out Mowgli as a character and rather presents story arcs in a generic way like Mowgli getting to leave the jungle after being severely punished by his adoptive father resulting in the latter being upset for treating him harshly. It's cliches we've seen done in other animated films without anything new. It all builds to a rather unimpressive climax revolving around an old temple with lava and it just left me with very little by the end. I should also mention the film has two brand new songs in the film that were rather forgettable, dated, left no impression on me. It doesn't help that the film unwisely included songs from the first film like "Bare Necessities", "I Wanna Be Like You", and "Colonel Hathi's March" which goes to show just how timeless the original film is. As far as the animation goes, it's mostly rather unimpressive. I shouldn't be too harsh considering this film had a rather low budget of $20 million, but it sadly shows while watching this film. The backgrounds do look stellar and still have the same look that the first film does though I did miss a specific green look the first film had that made it stand out from the other Disney Animation classics. The character animation though was rather weak. The animation felt rather glossy and digital and lacked that scratchy Xerox look that the first film used so well and it felt rather unimpressive and showed some weird sides to it. It looked like animation you would find in a TV commercial rather than a theatrical film. I also thought the color palates for the characters in the film really looked off. For some reason, Baloo was painted in a rather bizarre tint of purple compared to his grey fur in the original and also found one of the vulture's hair was painted grey rather than black. It was rather bizarre and seriously showed just how the animation in this film paled in comparison to the original film brought to life by some of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men. As far as the characters go, there's not much to talk about in terms of personality or development but I do want to touch briefly upon some of the casting decisions made in this film. I think Haley Joel Osment is a perfect replacement for Bruce Reitherman as Mowgli. His voice feels slightly older and more mature than it did in the first film and I think it fits him well. I just wish his character was matured personality-wise since his inner conflict felt forced as there wasn't any fear that he had like in the first film and seemed like he only wanted to return because he missed Shanti. It's rather weak writing. Baloo also hasn't changed much in the first film as he's still playful and fun though I did think that John Goodman was badly miscast as him. I normally love him, but I felt he was the wrong voice to replace Phil Harris as he seemed to remind me more of Sulley from "Monsters Inc" than Baloo. As far as other characters who return, there's not much else to say about them. I do think Bob Joles was a good replacement for Bagheera even if the character was shoved to the side and Jim Cummings was naturally perfect to replace Sterling Halloway as Kaa even if the character is given scenes that are pretty much the same from the first film. The one character I did feel remained intact and had a great replacement voice actor was Shere Khan. Tony Jay was perfect to replace the great George Sanders as he still had that smooth and elegant voice while being deliciously menacing and villainous. He was fun to watch throughout the film. As far as Shanti and Ranjan, there's not much to say about them. In the first film. Shanti was pretty much like a siren who seduced Mowgli into the man-village with her song which I found rather clever. In this film though, she's been reduced to being the girl best friend Mowgli has that is afraid of animals as well as getting into trouble. It's a real shame because there were many interesting directions the filmmakers could've taken with the character and the one they did choose was rather poor and weak. It also sucks knowing that Mae Whitman voiced her knowing she's voiced stronger animated characters like Katara in "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and Amity in "The Owl House". As for Ranjan, he was just there to be cute and was rather pointless to the story. He mostly annoyed me.
In fact, annoyed is a good description to describe "The Jungle Book 2". The story is lackluster and doesn't have the fun the first film had, the animation is second rate and doesn't shine, and the characters are boring and have somewhat strange casting choices. This is a film I seriously do not recommend at all. My recommendation is to instead stick with the classic 1967 version "The Jungle Book". It pretty much does everything right that this film did wrong. I don't understand why Disney thought this was good enough for theaters because it quite honestly should've stayed in the DVD jungle where it belonged.