Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?
Based on the classic Rudyard Kipling story Jungle Book 2 starts basically where the 1967 original left off. Having been lured into the human village by a beautiful young girl Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is now living the life of his people. No more bumping bananas out of a tree swingin' with the monkeys or singing about the "bare necessities" with his old friend Baloo the bear (voiced by John Goodman). Mowgli doesn't mind living with his own kind despite their rules and restrictions especially when he can hang out with the beautiful girl Shanti (voiced by Mae Whitman) but he still misses the wild times he had in the jungle. So does Baloo who pines for his little buddy but is told again and again by the wise panther Bagheera (voiced by Bob Joles) that Mowgli is where he belongs. Even the malevolent tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Tony Jay) would like to get his hands on the man-cub--for a little payback. Finally Mowgli is fed up with the village rules and sneaks off into the jungle with Baloo while Shanti thinks he is being abducted by a wild animal and goes off to rescue him. Egad! Now there's two unsuspecting kids in the jungle. What to do? It's a chase to see who gets to Mowgli first--the man-eating tiger his old pals or his new human friends and family.
Everyone associated with this sequel makes a valiant effort to re-create the indelible character voices from the original but unfortunately just miss the mark. Goodman who will forever be the lovable James P. "Sully" Sullivan from Monsters Inc. can't quite capture the same magic the late Phil Harris had when he brought the big-hearted Baloo to life. Try and imagine someone else playing Sully. See what I mean? The same goes for attempting to top the 1967 originals Sebastian Cabot as the harried Bagheera Sterling Holloway as the villainous snake Kaa (remember "Trusssssst in Me"?) and George Sanders as the ultra-cool Shere Khan. These guys made the Kipling characters their own. Trying to imitate them in Jungle Book 2 doesn't work. At least the sequel has enough smarts to leave out the swingin' orangutan King Louie altogether who was voiced in the original by jazz musician Louis Prima. No one could have even touched that performance. Osment who is making a name for himself in the Disney voice-over community after doing the lead in The Country Bears does a fine job as Mowgli.
The one thing you can say about this sequel is that it tries too hard to be like its ultra-hip predecessor. When the original The Jungle Book was released in 1967 Disney had a vision of Kipling's story as a jazzy jungle romp with great songs such as "Bare Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You' and incorporated some of the era's coolest beatniks including Prima and Harris. Jungle Book 2 isn't as toe-tappin' and fans of the original may think the new musical numbers a little cheesy especially the big one in the jungle ruins with Baloo and company. It can't hold a candle to the King Louie number from the original. Still the film doesn't fail completely. The continuing story of Mowgli's life is engaging as we watch him cope with his new surroundings realizing he truly can't be a jungle boy forever.