George of the Jungle (1997)

23 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I wasn’t a fan of the original animated TV series “George of the Jungle.” In fact, I never saw it. All I know about it is its catchy theme song that goes “George—George—George of the Jungle.” But the show’s film adaptation of the same name “George of the Jungle” is so fresh and funny that I don’t think I want to watch the show. I should probably quit while I’m ahead.

One of the best things about the movie “George of the Jungle” is the casting of Brendan Fraser. He’s the type of guy who might be seen posing as Tarzan on a GQ magazine cover, but he’s also convincing as a doofus. He plays George, who was separated from his human family as a baby and raised by apes in the jungle. He has grown to manhood as king of the jungle. The running gag is that George loves to swing on vines, much like Tarzan, only he crashes into trees, even after someone warns him, “Watch out for that tree!”

Exploring his jungle is a young woman named Ursula (Leslie Mann) and her self-absorbed fiancé Lyle (Thomas Haden Church) as they hunt for a legendary White Ape (which is probably George). They are attacked by a lion, and when Lyle is knocked unconscious when running away, George comes to the aid of Lyle’s lovely fiancée in a very funny scene in which George fights with the lion. When I heard the boxing bell ring three times before the fight, I laughed and knew I was in for a treat. This scene is a real treat—George clotheslines the lion, spins it on his finger (“George not even trying hard”), and even body slams the animal. The way it’s handled is cartoonish, but very funny.

When George takes Ursula back to his tree house, he introduces her to his “brother”—a walking, talking, and even intelligent ape named Ape (voiced by John Cleese). Then he introduces her to the funniest creature in the movie. This is George’s “dog” Shep, who is really an elephant who thinks he’s a dog because George trained him to be a dog. When I saw this elephant run and bark over to George, I laughed and laughed and laughed and had trouble stopping. The scene gets even funnier when George plays fetch with Shep by throwing a huge log to where he can fetch it with his trunk.

“George of the Jungle” is full of good cheer and delivers with humor and charm. The charm of the film comes from the funny moments and also the love story that develops between George and Ursula. George has never seen a human female before so this attraction to her is all too new for him. It’s sweet the way their relationship becomes something more. And the movie really is funny. I love the elephant and the ape has more comic timing than the gorilla from “Congo” (you know, the gorilla trained to speak sign language and drink martinis). It’s also funny the way the script kids itself with the flimsy material. I love how the narrator kids with the characters and the storyline through most of the movie. Here’s an example:

NARRATOR: They reacted with awe. CHARACTERS: Awwwwwwww… NARRATOR: I said “awe.” A-W-E. CHARACTERS: Ooooohhhh… NARRATOR: That’s better.

The movie does start to head downhill when George is taken to Ursula’s jungle—the city of San Francisco. George has never seen anything outside the wildlife before so he attempts to fit in but of course it’s not easy. The whole episode of that concept is funny at first, kind of like a “Crocodile Dundee” situation, but then it starts to grow a little tedious and the energy doesn’t quite pick up until George is forced to go back into the jungle and rescue Ape from poachers.

“George of the Jungle” is alive and suitably silly. It has many funny gags and a lot of charm. Even if the whole “fish-out-of-water” subplot doesn’t exactly work, the rest of the film is still fun to watch.

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