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REVIEW: JUNGLE BOOK 2 SHANTI DOLL/FIGURE
By Thomas Wheeler

Okay, I readily admit I'm a big fan of most of Disney's animated movies over the years. And two of my all-time favorites are The Lion King and -- Jungle Book.

I saw the original Jungle Book during its first release in 1967. My parents and grandmother took me to what I believe was the Detroit premiere of the film. I distinctly recall having to get dressed up a bit more than usual for going to a movie, and that the theater had a decent range of souvenirs, and had been decorated to look like a jungle. Either that, or the ferns in the lobby had gotten completely out of control.

It has remained one of my favorite Disney films ever since. So when I learned that Disney was finally, after three-and-a-half decades, doing a sequel, I was -- well, initially a little concerned. How far along the timelime would the movie progress? I had no great interest in seeing a teenaged Mowgli having it out with an arthritic Shere Khan. A lot of Disney's recent sequels -- Little Mermaid II, Lady and the Tramp II, and Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, this last one being the best of the lot and the only one of the three to garner (and merit) a theatrical sequel, had been, to steal a line from Star Trek, "next generation" movies. My mind cringed at the thought of an adult Mowgli trying to save his offspring from a certain tiger. Worse yet if all he was still wearing were those red undershorts...

Fortunately, I soon learned that despite the massive amount of time between the production of the two movies, JUNGLE BOOK 2 would take place an unspecified but very short time after the original. The end result, I have to say, was very impressive and very pleasing to this longtime Jungle Book fan. Certainly the animation was more advanced, but it worked well. John Goodman, while no Phil Harris, did an abundantly capable job as Baloo. John Rhys-Davies did a fine job as Mowgli's adoptive father, and the voice actors for Baloo, Kaa, and Shere Khan did impeccable jobs duplicating the efforts of their distinguished predecessors. Overall, JUNGLE BOOK 2 is possibly the best Disney sequel yet, a truly enjoyable movie in its own right, and one that I most highly recommend.

But -- this is supposed to be a TOY review, right? So let's get on with it. Of course, Disney promoted the movie with a fairly wide range of products, including toys, many of which turned up at The Disney Store. Some of these were predictable. The better part of a wall was devoted to stuffed animals of Baloo, Bagheera, Junior the Elephant, Kaa, Shere Khan, and even King Louie -- who isn't even in the movie. Some of the toys were a bit peculiar, such as Hasbro creating a Jungle Book 2 spin-off of their "Disney Wild Racers" line of die-cast cars in the form of the "Team Shere Khan Transport and Car" set. Need it be said, no motor vehicles of any sort appeared in the film.

But after all these years of Disney essentially neglecting the Jungle Book universe, I thought that finally, we might get a decent Mowgli figure of some sort. Right?

Wrong.

There were some PVC's, and a small figure that was part of a McDonald's Happy Meal Toy, but once again, the CENTRAL CHARACTER of the Jungle Book stories got the short end of the marketing stick. Which isn't to say there wasn't some rather obvious potential in at least one product that I came across, and decided to purchase.

Mowgli, although clearly the focus of Jungle Book 2 as much as he was the first Jungle Book movie, is NOT the only human kid in the film. He is joined by the young girl who turned up at the end of the first movie. She's finally been given a name, as well -- Shanti. Also in the movie is Mowgli's little brother, the son of his adoptive father, a little bundle of energy named Ranjan who idolizes his older jungle-born brother.

So out of these three, it turned out to be Shanti who got the best treatment from a product standpoint.

I discovered a truly superbly made Shanti doll at the Disney Store, amidst all of the other assorted Jungle Book 2 merchandise. Of course the first thing I did was take the doll over to the cash register and inquire if there was a Mowgli to go with it. There wasn't. But I ultimately decided to get Shanti anyway. I'm sort of hoping there might be some additional merchandise when the movie is released on video and DVD.

If you enjoyed Jungle Book 2, and perhaps have a daughter at home who liked the film, then this Shanti doll would be a truly superb gift. Even just as one of the most impressive of the Jungle Book 2 collectibles it's a nice item. No manufacturer is listed on the box. Shanti is one of those "in-store" items that is made, I assume, by some company specifically contracted by Disney for this sort of thing.

That's not to say that Shanti is in any way second-rate. By no means! The doll stands a good 14" in height, is made of very solid plastic, has rooted and braided hair, well painted eyes and facial features, and well-made clothing. The cloth is rather thin, but given the environment in which Shanti lives, a turn-of-the-LAST-century village at the edge of a jungle, this is to be expected.

Shanti is well articulated, at the head, arms, elbows, legs, and knees. The doll also comes with a light-up "torch" for when she enters the jungle on her search to find Mowgli. This little gadget is surprisingly effective, with an orange LED giving off an impressive and rather feiry glow from inside transparent plastic sculpted to look like flame. Set the torch off in a dark room for some interesting lighting effects. You'll think you ARE in a dark jungle somewhere.

One big question for me was -- could the Shanti molds -- except for the head -- be used to make a Mowgli? The answer is -- probably not, which might be one reason why one didn't get made. The Shanti doll, like the character in the movie, is more different in appearance from Mowgli than one might surmise. They're both young kids, and both on the skinny side, but Mowgli is more angular in some respects. His hands and feet are larger, his elbows and knees more prominent. In comparison, Shanti is drawn more smoothly, and her legs seem a bit longer than Mowgli's for some reason of design.

That's not to say that a Mowgli shouldn't (or couldn't) have been made in this scale right alongside Shanti. There's nothing specifically marking this toy as a girls' product, except for the word "Doll" on the box instead of "figure", which in some cases I think is a matter of semantics (just don't call a G.I.Joe figure a doll -- that can get you beaten up at Conventions, and rightly so). Personally, I think this Shanti doll/figure was designed for anyone who enjoyed Jungle Book 2 well enough to spend a little extra money on some of the merchandise, a category into which I certainly fit.

But there was no good reason that I can see to not -- FINALLY, AFTER 35+ YEARS -- make a Mowgli figure. And the overall quality of the Shanti figure would be most welcome if applied to a comparable and compatible Mowgli.

Meanwhile, I certainly recommend Shanti to any fan of Jungle Book 2. I also recommend joining me in raising a bit of a ruckus to the Disney Store (www.disneystore.com - or Glendale, CA 91203-2671) about turning out a Mowgli in this same size and design, maybe for the video release, which if I'm right, will be sometime in August. With a little hope and luck, I'll be writing a review for one right around then...