This one's worth checking out.

This one’s worth checking out.

An amusing pastime.

An amusing pastime

Watch out for that tree, George!

Watch out for that tree, George!

Usually when I revisit the classics of my childhood, I discover that they still hold up as good films. Disney’s 1997 comedy George of the Jungle, while not a bad movie, is a film that didn’t hold up quite as strongly upon my recent rewatching.

But George of the Jungle, based on the old cartoons of the same title, is still a feel-good comedy that holds your attention with its endearing characters and often very witty self-awareness. At the end of the day, it’s worth sitting through the jokes that pander to those who find urinary and digestive waste funny.

In the film, Brendan Fraser plays George, a dim-witted parody of Tarzan who is known to the African locals as “the White Ape”. He lives in a treehouse in the jungle with his very dog-like pet elephant Shep, a friendly toucan named Tooki Tooki Bird, and “his brother”, an intelligent talking gorilla named Ape, voiced wonderfully by the great John Cleese. An expedition lead by a native tour guide named Kwame (Richard Roundtree) eventually comes across the mountain where George resides and amongst them is a pretty young woman named Ursula (Leslie Mann). After saving her from a nasty encounter she and her arrogant fiance Lyle (Thomas Haden Church) have with a lion, George finds that her presence stirs up unfamiliar emotions within him. He also sees breasts for the first time.

After Lyle and the tour team catch up and Lyle tries to kill George for stealing Ursula from him, Ursula ends up bringing a wounded George home with him on a private jet to San Francisco. Sure, just bring him right along I guess. Either way, her wealthy parents (Holland Taylor and John Bennett Perry) are scarcely amused when she informs them that she no longer wants to marry Lyle, who is now in jail for attempted homicide, and instead wants to be with George. However, as George starts to get used to his life in a more concrete-based jungle, two greedy poachers named Max & Thor (Greg Cruttwell and Abraham Benrubi), who were present during the first expedition, are making their way back to the mountain to capture Ape and make fortune off of the world’s first talking gorilla.

Will George be forced to leave Ursula behind to go back home to save  his brother? I dunno, but the narrator of the film (Keith Scott) promises a happy ending so let’s just assume the best.

Ursula thinks she's going mad. Ape is hardly amused.

Ursula thinks she’s going mad. Ape is hardly amused.

The narrator is one of the funniest gags in the film and he provides some of the self-awareness and fourth wall jokes that make the film’s most memorable moments. Another notable voice talent involved in the film is Frank Welker, who, as always, provides the animal noises. I have no idea how he does it. I just don’t.

I was exposed to this film via trailers on a Winnie The Pooh VHS (Or was it Chip & Dale?) and my love towards Disney’s Tarzan made me interested in seeing what this was. Even if I still enjoy watching it after all these years, I do find myself liking it slightly less than when I was younger. The more times I rewatch the film, the more frequent are the jokes that make me roll my eyes and the more I question some of the plot transitions. Who was it, for instance, that ultimately stopped the poachers from catching Ape during their first attempt? What was this whole thing about Lyle getting sprung out of prison by religious mercenaries? Perplexing, but perhaps that was the idea.

In spite of these things and a few dated special effects, George of the Jungle still provides its share of fun. I was surprised to discover that the film actually touches a bit on racism as well. Don’t get me wrong, our friends over at Disney are no strangers to racism (*cough* Song of The South *cough* 1940’s), but isn’t it a bit unusual that a character in one of their family films, in this case Lyle, is openly racist? A very funny scene involves him trying to explain to Kwame’s men what a camera is by calling it a “magical box” and addressing them as though they’ve lived amongst monkeys and tree tops their entire lives. One of them informs Lyle in Swahili that he likes the “magic box” but that he prefers the image resolution of the Leica 35mm transparencies, right before offering to clean the dirty lens for him.

I will conclude that George of the Jungle is an amusing movie experience with a greatly likeable lead, entertaining villains, a sugar sweet love interest, a delightful talking animal sidekick and memorable jokes to top it all off. Also, Brendan Fraser’s an absolute hunk in this. You can’t deny that.

Down below  is the trailer that introduced me to the movie, complete with deliciously Swedish subtitles.

3.5/5 whatever