Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann star in GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, directed by Sam Weisman for Walt Disney Pictures.

George of the Jungle (1997, Sam Weisman)

For what it is, George of the Jungle is a rather successful film. It has to appeal to kids (since it’s a Disney movie), teenage girls (who I presume liked Brendan Fraser and might buy the soundtrack–from Disney Records, of course), and even “George of the Jungle” fans. Viewers of the show would be parents of the kids seeing the film, but there’s a real attention to minutiae and it works–George of the Jungle is a pleasant diversion. It immediately establishes itself as absurd, then proceeds to amuse the audience. When the film either shifts focus (from slapstick comedy to romantic comedy, for example) or, in particular, leaves the jungle sets, chafing occurs. In some ways, mostly because of Leslie Mann’s excellent performance as the love interest, George of the Jungle is an effective romance. It’s in a syrupy way, but a pleasing one. While Brendan Fraser is better playing a general buffoon than acting, he earns enough credit to glide over those scenes where he has trouble. But that success is an overall one–there are scenes throughout, this long dance scene, where I couldn’t figure out why they were filming it… then I remembered the Disney Records soundtrack.

The effects problems are different and complex. Since it’s a goofy comedy, the obvious CG isn’t a problem, neither is the obvious composite shots and jungle sets. The Creature Shop’s animatronics, however, are fantastic. But it’s the transition from set to location shooting where George of the Jungle starts to feel wrong–it isn’t supposed to be real and introducing elements, even simple visual cues, rips the viewer from the experience. When George ends up in San Francisco, I kept looking at the clock, waiting for him to go do something else. At those moments, the film felt the most like a romantic comedy (I imagine it’s where romantic comedy writer Audrey Wells did the majority of her work). Maybe it if had all been done on sets or something… but it just didn’t fit, visually or tonally, with the rest of the film. Holland Taylor plays Leslie Mann’s evil mother, who prefers fiancé Thomas Haden Church (who’s hilarious, though he’s just playing an evil, rich version of Lowell from “Wings” for most of it) to the Jungle King. Taylor, who’s usually good, has played this role maybe nine times before and it’s visible from her performance. It’s hard to be engaged when the actor is bored.

Besides her, however, the cast is fine. John Cleese voices the ape named Ape and it’s an excellent fit. For some reason, I agree with that character regarding the Tookie Bird. It’s damn annoying.

Also, the film’s one of those rare ones where the last couple minutes pulls the whole thing up a notch, just because it gets goofy again.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Weisman; written by Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells, based on a story by Olsen and a cartoon by Jay Ward; director of photography, Thomas Ackerman; edited by Stuart Pappe and Roger Bondelli; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by David Hoberman, Jordan Kerner and Jon Avnet; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Brendan Fraser (George), Leslie Mann (Ursula Stanhope), Thomas Haden Church (Lyle Van de Groot), Richard Roundtree (Kwame), Holland Taylor (Beatrice Stanhope), Abraham Benrubi (Thor) and John Cleese (An Ape Named “Ape”).


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