Friday May 16, 1997
Jason Scott Lee, who was as cunningly convincing a loincloth-clad hero as anyone was likely to cast.
Now we get the non-Disney "Rudyard Kipling's The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo"--Mowgli being the jungle boy, Baloo being the bear--which is a mouthful, and more words are about all it adds to this particular oeuvre. The film does boast a charismatic lead actor--11-year-old Jamie Williams, who is wonderfully expressive as the young Mowgli. But the film looks undernourished--as do many of the animals--and you're a bit distracted from the story worrying whether everyone is getting enough to eat.
Set in 1890s India, it's full of primeval landscapes and jungle beasts--Baloo, Mowgli's good friend; Grey Wolf, leader of the pack that has raised the boy from infanthood; and Bagheera, the black panther--although a lot of it looks as if it were shot through an old Viewmaster.
Director Duncan McLachlan gives us twitty Raj-era Brits and daffy Indians, and one American--Harrison (Bill Campbell), a talent scout for P.T. Barnum, who wants to capture the boy and bring him back to New York. Harrison will, of course, come to his moral senses, especially after Mowgli is put in peril by his Uncle Buldeo (Gulshan Grover), who has inherited Mowgli's late father's estate and doesn't want any 11-year-olds asserting their rights to the property.
A reasonable amount of "The Second Jungle Book" is energetic and occasionally fun; Roddy McDowall makes an appearance as a mad old soldier and lifts the film out of its doldrums. The chimpanzees are antic, but the less controllable animals--the wolves, the panther--are shot in ways that clearly called for as little control and as little film as possible. That these failings are so noticeable doesn't do much for the old suspension of disbelief, and combined with the insipid narration and predictable slo-mo animals sequences, it makes the script seem even more lame.
"I'll be a monkey's uncle," Harrison says during a particularly momentous scene, "the animals are cooperating with each other. . . ." Well, if he were, they'd have to be. But the fact that I'm searching so strenuously for jokes is an indication of how tough things can be in the jungle.
Rudyard Kiplings the Second, 1997. PG for some mild adventure violence and brief mild language. A Kiplinbook/Raju Patel production, released by TriStar, with MDP Worldwide and Sharad Patel. Director Duncan McLachlan. Producer Raju Patel. Screenplay by Bayard Johnson, Matthew Horton, based on the Rudyard Kipling tale. Cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli. Editor Marcus Manton. Costumes Ann Hollowood. Music John Scott. Production design Errol Kelly. Art directors Paul Takis, Sunil Wijeratne. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Jungle Book as Mowgli and Baloo'. Jamie Williams as Mowgli. Bill Campbell as Harrison. Roddy McDowall as King Murphy. David Paul Francis as Chuchundra. Gulshan Grover as Buldeo.