Hey, gang -

Jim Hill here. I just wanted to take a moment to formally welcome RKORadioPictures to the JHM family. Those of you who read the article that RKORadioPictures wrote for the site earlier this week (You know? That enthusiastic review of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" script that we ran on JimHillMedia back on Wednesday?) are already aware of how well this guy can write.

But I find that the real test of a critic's mettle is how they handle a flop. A book / picture / TV show that really stinks up the joint. If the writer can still manage to pull a pretty entertaining review out of the awful experience of seeing a horrible picture / reading a dreadful novel / sitting through a rotten musical / you get the idea ... that's a writer that you want to keep your eyes on.

That's why I'm so pleased to introduce you all to RKORadioPictures. A guy who was still able to turn in a really entertaining column even after suffering through an advance screening of "Jungle Book 2."

 

I would like to think that somewhere in the Mouse House someone actually thought that making a sequel to "The Jungle Book" was a good idea. That somehow, in spite of itself, there was actually a creative spark behind the madness and not just a greedy commercialists' cattle prong. I would like to think so, but I don't.

For Disney's "Jungle Book 2" is an excruciatingly bad direct-to-video sequel pumped full of just enough growth hormone to make it bearable to view in theaters. Not that I in any way recommend such a venture, I'm just telling you that you won't die from watching it. It might make you want to die, but it certainly won't kill you.

The film opens up with a nice little shadow puppet sequence with Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) recounting the events of the first film for the uninitiated (read: too young to remember) in the audience. This first scene is actually executed well enough that I thought for a moment (however brief) that this film may not thoroughly suck. And then it did.

See, Mowgli decides that he's sick of the man village (Christ, Mowgli! Make up your mind!) and heads back out into the jungle to reconnect with Baloo (John Goodman) and enjoy, once again, the "Bare Necessities" (cue first of many obligatory reprises). Not to be left out of the insipid plot -- um, I mean action -- girlfriend Shanti and her little brother head out into the jungle after Mowgli ... followed later by what feels like the rest of the village.

Then, of course, there's Shere Kahn waiting in the wings ready to get back at the little man cub for the embarrassment he caused last time the two met and blah, blah, blah. At this point, the film makers completely stop caring and the action takes a nosedive off the deep end. The audience also stops caring, and the projectionist ... well, he's crawled up in a corner in the fetal position having been subjected to seeing this monstrosity seven times a day.

The militia of screenwriters Disney had working on this thing (six in all) managed to come up with a tepid storyline at best, an epilepsy-inducing freak show at worse. I personally would have liked to see Disney return to the original novel by Rudyard Kipling (who, by the way, goes uncredited. Which I'm sure is a relief to the family. I wouldn't want my grandfather's name on it either.) and use some of the adventures Disney ignored in its first outing. Instead we have a rehash of the same old same old that was funny and original the first time, bearable in the live action films of the late 90's, and cringe-inducing in this third (and hopefully final) outing.

Now one of the things that really made " Jungle Book" a fun movie is its crazy jungle beats to the tune of "I Wanna Be Like You" and "Bare Necessities." Unfortunately, we're not as blessed this time around. Sure, the classics are all there (along with a few, but weak, new ventures) but this time they sound hollow and lifeless. I think my friend said it best when he stated that "it sounded like an angel ... being shoved through a laminator." Which I thought was funny ... and frighteningly true. Even the energetic Phil Collins (as the voice of Lucky the Vulture) can't find time to belt out a groovy jungle rhythm worth remembering. I mean, by the time Smash Mouth starts to cover "I Wanna Be Like You," all I wanna do is pull an Oedipus.

But I will grant the film one thing: looking beyond the catatonic story the film manages to, despite itself, excel in every other way. In fact, the film almost recovers from the hideous plot. The character and background animation is top notch and vocal performances by Goodman, Osment, and cast are remarkably solid. Goodman as Baloo is just as enjoyable as Phil Harris. He manages to be Baloo without trying to be Harris. A gift that is remarkably refreshing in an otherwise stale film.

Now some might say that I'm being overcritical of a simple animated film intended to delight small children and not an adult. Which, I suppose, is a legitimate argument. But I for one yearn for the good ol' days when my entire family could enjoy a Walt Disney picture. Something that has been MIA from most of the factory-sealed waste that has been coming down the Disney pipeline recently.

When I was about ten years old I participated in a community theater production of "The Jungle Book." It was a complete rip off of the Disney film but changed just enough to avoid any major lawsuits. The play was horrendously bad with a musical score produced entirely on synthesizer and lyrics that sounded like a team of fourth graders had written CATS but for some reason people came anyway. Not because they thought it could possibly be good, but because their sons and daughters were in it. They came out of obligation. And that's the audience I think Disney is looking for with " Jungle Book 2." An audience of pity, after all, is still an audience.

3 out of 10