As yet another nostalgic live-action treatment of an old television cartoon series, George of the Jungle didn’t have much going for it. The key asset of the klutzy Tarzan-wannabe was his catchy theme song. However, by sticking with the offbeat wit of the original series, the current George of the Jungle, while not a masterpiece by any means, manages at times to be pretty funny.
For those unfamiliar with the cartoon, or the Tarzan legend for that matter, here’s a quick recap. As a baby, George (Brendan Frasier) was lost in the jungle, where an intelligent talking ape named Ape (John Cleese) raised him to be Lord of the Jungle. Unfortunately, George isn’t very bright and tends to be accident prone (often swinging on vines into trees or other hard objects). Keeping him company in the jungle are his faithful companions, peanut-loving-poochie Shep (an elephant who thinks he’s a dog), and George’s messenger-toucan, Tookie-bird.
The film details George’s meeting with Ursula (Leslie Mann), a San Francisco heiress on a jungle trip before her wedding to the smarmy Lyle (Thomas Hayden Church). Ursula gets separated from her jungle party, and meets up with the “white ape” himself, George. Of course, Lyle sets out to find her and to prove that he’s better than any white ape.
Frasier cruises through his role as George, having conquered the loincloth-clad Neanderthal bit with Encino Man. He’s genial and dense in the role, just as called for. Leslie Mann is appropriately wide-eyed as Jane, oops…that’s Ursula (by the way, there’s no mention of Ursula’s identical twin, who was also featured in the cartoon series).
George of the Jungle manages to capture the irreverent wit of the tv show from the incessant narration to the panting elephant Shep. John Cleese is perfectly cast as the ape named Ape, George’s superior in everything except evolution. Some of the jokes are obvious, but they’re staged well, and most succeed.
However, even with its relatively short running time, the film does begin to bog down. By the time it is done, you will have had more than your fill of “Watch out for that tree!” gags. And the film panders to the Dumb and Dumber set with a bit too much bodily function humor.
Still, with a film based on a cartoon (and not a terribly highbrow one at that), you don’t expect much…and George at least delivers that, and then some.