George of the Jungle (1997)

D: Sam Weisman
S: Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann

Good natured Tarzan spoof from the 1960s cartoon series which while always obvious and frequently scatological should entertain adults and children alike, provided you can let pass a couple of jokes about elephant urine (the film has a PG cert for crude humour). Having displayed a talent for physical acting and a likable personality in Encino Man and Airheads, Brendan Fraser was undoubtedly the perfect choice to play the hapless but heroic title character (even if he frequently overdoes it here). George is a boy raised in the jungle by a highly intelligent talking 'ape named Ape' (voiced by John Cleese) whose sudden contact with civilised society involves the traditional trip to the big city in the company of the archetypal buxom blonde Leslie Mann, replete with culture clashes and social graces under siege. We've seen it all before, and as with Scream, that's precisely the point. Adults can revel in seeing an old chestnut warmed over with terrific comic energy. Children relatively unfamiliar with the clichés will still enjoy the antics of its human and non-human characters including a band of bongo-playing ninja gorillas (don't ask) and a monkey suffering from peer pressure.

The real pleasures here are in the cartoonish execution and production design, including some well handled cgi of George's 'dog' Shep (an elephant who runs, pants, wags its tail and urinates like a dog) and a marvelously elaborate tree house. This is silly fun from start to finish, and not without a sense of its own absurdity (the scene where three black porters pause for a raucous laugh at "classic moment of physical comedy" is priceless). It moves fast, which is just as well, and though there are slow spots, it cheerfully swings towards a predictable conclusion like George himself. Fraser is a bit OTT at times, but captures the innocent heroism of his character well. He is ably supported by a cast of comic actors in small roles, plus a host of real and digital animals who perform splendidly.

Still, for those willing to sit for some wacky, noisy, knockabout parody, George of the Jungle lives up to its promise. You're not meant to take this film seriously and one shouldn't. It's not great art, or even great comedy. But if you're in the right frame of mind, it can be great fun. Of course the looming threat of a sequel or Disney-produced cable TV series is somewhat sobering.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.