With the exception of Despicable Me, Universal Pictures has been pretty lax on the whole computer animated feature film phenomena, leaving the big bucks to be gathered up by rivals Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, and so on. However, and not unlike Despicable Me, The Jungle Bunch is by no means to blame for this.
In case you have no idea about how this movie came into being- the film originated in France under the title Les As de la Jungle - Operation banquise back in December of 2011. Universal quietly brought the movie across the pond, slapped an English vocal cast together for a redub and released it as a Direct-to-DVD affair in August of 2012.
It comes in at a surprisingly short 58-minute runtime and comes in unrated but it would probably be safe to assume it could be squeezed into the coveted Rated G arena if it were. There’s a little animal on animal slapstick violence but considering such sequences are actually derived from real struggles that take place in the animal kingdom, it’s nothing to get excited about.
The story opens on an arctic ice floe where a bunch of peaceful penguins are approached by a walrus clan who demand half of the penguins’ bounty of fish each day. During the encounter, a single penguin egg is tossed into the ocean and gets carried off by the currents.
The opening credits form a vignette explaining that the egg eventually washed ashore on a distant jungle where it was recovered by tigers. Hatched into a tiger clan, lead character, penguin Maurice (voiced by John Lithgow) grows up believing that he too is a tiger with a skin condition that demands he paint his body stripes at regular intervals.
Appointing himself a great warrior in the tradition of his “family’s” reputation, Maurice travels the jungle with the pet tiger-fish he believes to be his own offspring, Junior as a keeper of the peace.
In the meantime, a couple of penguins, fed up of being bullied by the walruses, travel all the way to the distant jungle in search of the mythical “Great Tiger Warrior" to free them from bondage.
They do eventually locate Maurice, who just so happens to match the description of the legend, and a ragtag group of other animals like Fred the warthog (voiced by Donald Learly), frogs Al (voiced by Stan Hanks) and Bob (Chris Smith), Miguel the gorilla (voiced by Stan Hanks) and galago Gilbert (voiced by Dre Gordon). Maurice immediately volunteers for the job and a return trip to Antarctica ensues.
The pacing of the story is remarkably brisk- like 58-minutes start to finish should be. There are really no scenes that drag on needlessly and the visuals are surprisingly tight- bright and shiny textures and caricature-style simplistic animal models. Small children will appreciate the animation and visuals, adults will find the underlying humor passable as well. Lithgow’s unique enthusiasm shines through.
My critique may sound fairly unenthusiastic but make no mistake, the fact that this film is as solid as it is testifies to a lot of incredible hard work and dedication. In my opinion the method of slapping English dialog atop a foreign animated work is the absolute formula for disaster!
Think about this for a moment: Even if you had good actors and a wonderful script, by the time you attempt to match up the dialog to the onscreen mouth flaps, the timing of the humor infallibly falls apart. No need to take my word for this, there are dozens of examples of it on the market today (Dolphin The Story of a Dreamer, Doogal, Impy’s Island, Donkey X, The Snurks and so on) that demonstrate the situation perfectly. Taking this into consideration, The Jungle Bunch is remarkably well done- feeling almost like it was an American/ English speaking project from the onset.
If you’re still unsure as to whether or not this one’s right for your viewing/ purchase/ rental needs, it kind of harkens back to some of the tension of the Happy Feet films (without the environmentalism slant) and combines it with the wackiness of the Madagascars (particularly the Penguins of Madagascar).
In all The Jungle Bunch has done very little to shake up the computer generated film industry dominated by the likes of Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky Image Works and so on but it’s certainly an enjoyable little romp. At 58-minutes, it’s quite endurable for adults even if the kids tend to put it on over and over… and over.
The DVD also includes 26 shorts involving the characters from the film in an interview setting. These are surprisingly cute and add an additional 40-minutes of entertainment to the package. In fact, after taking the tour of the shorts, it becomes very clear with a little promotion on Universal’s behalf, there’s a very strong chance The Jungle Bunch could have been positioned to be a viable alternative to The Penguins of Madagascar on television. However, as it stands, this one makes for a decent rental that you just may end up adding to your collection.
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