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"George of the Jungle"

By Devin D. O'Leary

JULY 28, 1997:  Somebody at the Walt Disney Corporation really wants me to like this movie. In the last few weeks, I've received a stuffed gorilla, an electronic greeting card that plays the beat-happy George of the Jungle theme song and an actual coconut that opens with a zipper to reveal a George T-shirt. It boggles the mind. Some lucky jerk out in Hollywood actually gets paid to sit in an office and come up with crazy swag like that. Ah well, most people think it's pretty mindboggling that I get paid to review movies. Speaking of which ...

The newest Disney flick to swing into theaters this summer is--as if you haven't already guessed--George of the Jungle. In case you're too young to remember, or spent your entire youth watching "Davey and Goliath," this live action jungle parody is based on the classic Jay Ward cartoon of the late '60s. Hollywood hunk Brendan Fraser plays a thick-headed (literally) Tarzan clone with a penchant for swinging into trees. George lives in the heart of deepest, darkest Africa along with his pals the Tookie-Tookie Bird, an ape named "Ape" (voiced by John Cleese) and a (computer-generated) elephant called Shep, who thinks he's a dog. Into this odd jungle wilderness wanders winsome heiress Ursula Stanhope (Leslie Mann, sort a young Melanie Griffith). Unfortunately, Ursula's got her annoying, snobbish fiance Lyle Van de Groot (Thomas Hayden Church of TV's "Wings") in tow. When a lion comes looking for lunch, George saves the girl and ditches the guy. Of course, Ursula falls for the hunky lunkhead and ends up taking him back home to San Francisco with her. Lots of culture clash comedy ensues.

The whole thing is probably just as silly as you think it is. Much humor is milked from George's vine-based miscalculations. Pratfalls and puns are the order of the day. Still, most of it will make audience members of all ages laugh out loud. A few clever jokes are thrown in for the adults in the audience (like George learning human courtship rituals by thumbing through a copy of Coffee, Tea or Me?). The wordplay is often inventive (George's description of his loincloth as a "butt-flap"). Plus, all those shots of George swinging into trees kinda bust me up.

No, there really isn't a whole lot more to it. George of the Jungle isn't much more than a series of funny vignettes strung together on a leftover Johnny Weismuller-era Tarzan storyboard. There's a subplot about the erudite Ape being kidnapped (or "apenapped" as the case may be) and plenty of romantic entanglements for George and Ursula to overcome.

Actually, there wasn't a whole lot more to the original Jay Ward cartoon. George of the Jungle wasn't Jay Ward's best work (that honor will always belong to "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"), but it was always good for a chuckle. The movie remains fairly true to its source material. The same comically over-earnest narration heard in all Jay Ward cartoons (from "Fractured Fairy Tales" to "Roger Ramjet") is present here and provides some great self-referential snickers.

My only real complaint is with the credit sequence. It features a snappy theme song cover by The Presidents of the United States and some colorful cartoon work by Sergio Aragones (of Mad Magazine fame). Aragones' stuff is cool, but it ain't Jay Ward. Why dis your source material like that? I know Jay's dead and all, but why not at least do it in his "style." I consider that bad karma.

Anyway, If you're looking for some silliness to lighten up your day, then George of the Jungle is the tonic for you. Just park your butt-flap on the seat and feel free to sing along to the theme song.

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