Relatively innocuous but utterly unnecessary -- except from the standpoint of unbridled capitalism -- "The Jungle Book 2" feels like "The Jungle Book" minus something crucial: an aesthetic raison d'etre.
"But I've already seeen that moo-bie," my 3-year-old videophile son whined every day for a week prior to my dragging him to a Saturday morning press screening of the sequel to the Kipling-based animated Disney classic.
"No. You haven't ," I insisted. "That was 'Jungle Book 1.' This is brand-new and completely different."
Turns out he was right.
Picking up where the original left off, with wild-child Mowgli (voice of Haley Joel Osment) struggling to adjust to civilized life in a jungle village, "JB2" wastes no time abandoning that promising story line, throwing the diaper-clad monkey-boy back into the forest as soon as it possibly can so our hero can pal around with old buddies Baloo the bear (John Goodman) and Bagheera the panther (Bob Joles) -- just as he did in 1967.
Oh, and let's not forget the evil Shere Khan the tiger (Tony Jay), who is understandably angry at having been set on fire in the first flick.
Disney knows which side its bread is buttered on, and so it trots out reprises of the popular songs "Colonel Hathi's March" (aka "The Elephant Song") and "The Bare Necessities." Sure, it pads things out with a couple of forgettable new tunes by Paul Grabowsky and Lorraine Feather and a couple of fresh characters: Mae Whitman and Connor Funk as tiger bait -- I mean village children -- Shanti and Ranjan. But otherwise, it is a formulaic retread.
"The Jungle Book" is, by any measure, a great movie, and there's undeniable pleasure in seeing old friends again. But the franchise is cheapened by Disney's crass commercialism in releasing material that, by rights, should have gone straight to video.