The Jungle Book 1 & 2
The Jungle Book (April 22/11)
Based on Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories, The Jungle Book follows a young boy (Bruce Reitherman's Mowgli) as he's raised by a family of wolves after a black panther (Sebastian Cabot's Bagheera) discovers him in a basket. Mowgli's happy existence is eventually interrupted after the feared Shere Khan (George Sanders) returns to the jungle, with the tiger's reappearance forcing Bagheera to accompany Mowgli to a nearby "man village" for safekeeping. From there, The Jungle Book details Mowgli's episodic adventures en route to the aforementioned village - as filmmaker Wolfgang Reitherman emphasizes Mowgli's ongoing encounters with a variety of oddball figures (including Louis Prima's King Louie and Phil Harris' Baloo). It's a pleasant enough premise that's employed to fairly middling effect by Reitherman, as the director has infused the proceedings with as deliberate a pace as one could envision - which ensures that the movie's unapologetically episodic structure only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The inclusion of a few standout sequences - eg the "Bear Necessities" musical number - proves instrumental in cultivating a relatively watchable atmosphere, with the affable vibe perpetuated by the strong voice performances and consistently captivating animation style. There's little doubt, however, that the film does begin to seriously run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark, which ultimately confirms The Jungle Book's place as a sporadically entertaining yet hopelessly uneven bit of animated filmmaking.
The Jungle Book 2 (July 12/11)
The Jungle Book 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first film and finds Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) now living happily alongside Shanti (Mae Whitman) and the rest of his human friends. It's the reappearance of Baloo (John Goodman) that prompts Mowgli to return to the jungle, with the film subsequently detailing the pair's good-time exploits and, eventually, their efforts at once again defeating the dreaded Shere Khan (Tony Jay). There's little doubt that The Jungle Book 2, in its early stages, comes off as a surprisingly decent animated sequel, as filmmaker Steve Trenbirth does a nice job of capturing the original movie's loose, freewheeling feel - although, by that same token, it's equally clear that this sequel is rarely as artful or timeless as its predecessor (ie the film is rife with kid-oriented elements, including wacky sound effects and over-the-top pratfalls). The watchable vibe, which is perpetuated by Osment and (especially) Goodman's strong voice work, persists right up until around the halfway mark, after which point the film, like its 1967 forebear, begins to demonstrably peter out due to its decidedly plotless sensibilities. The end result is a typically disappointing Disney followup that seems destined to appeal solely to small children, and it is, in the final analysis, difficult to recall a more underwhelming series within the Mouse House's ongoing body of work.