Movies of My Yesterdays: George of the Jungle

One thing I recall about the circumstances of the George of the Jungle release was that it seemed to come out at about the same time as Disney’s Tarzan, but apparently this actually predates it by two years. Given what I know about animation production schedules, Tarzan was probably already in the works when they started on this, but just came out later. I now recall that it wasn’t until the direct to video sequel that they were able to reference Tarzan.

However, this was definitely part of a wave of Jay Ward cartoon adaptations made in the late 90s. As much as I like 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (so much so that I did a redub of a sequence for college mainly because I thought there was a bad music decision that I wanted to fix. How did it go? Okay enough.) and Dudley Do-Right, I think this was the best of the bunch. Though it’s possible that’s just because I never saw any of the George of the Jungle cartoon, so I don’t know how badly it was changed. That didn’t stop me from loving the Inspector Gadget movie though.

George of the Jungle.
Mandeville Films 1997.

Fabulously wealthy San Francisco heiress Ursula Stanhope has come to Burundi to explore the jungle, but is surprised when her equally rich but pompous fiance Lyle Van De Groot tracks her down and joins her expedition, insisting they should return home as soon as possible for the wedding. Lyle has been accompanied by two poachers who are after the White Ape, a legend of the Burundi jungle that could get them a fortune. In reality, the White Ape is actually George, a human who was lost in the jungle as a baby and raised by apes, and now is the King of the Jungle. When Lyle and Ursula are attacked by a lion, Lyle tries to abandon Ursula and run away, and George swings in to save her, bringing her back to his treehouse to help her recover from the shock. When Lyle and the poachers find Ursula and George’s treehouse, there’s an altercation that leads to Lyle accidentally shooting George, leading Ursula to bring him back to San Francisco for medical care. Having seen Lyle for the selfish coward that he is, next to the humble and gorgeous hero George, Ursula now finds herself with questions about her future, much to her status-obsessed parents’ chagrin.

Maybe this is again because I’m not familiar with the source material, but it still feels like this movie more naturally adapted to modern styles than the other cartoon movies I named above. It’s a cartoonish slapstick farce with a lot of self-aware commentary, sometimes even not delivered through the narrator, but it meshes with the 90s writing aesthetic somehow. George is a timeless klutzy hero, but Dudley is a relic of a different era, and Rocky and Bullwinkle spend their entire movie commenting on how they’re 30 years behind. The narration is really the only anachronism I can find in this movie, and the Narrator is a comic character in his own right.

There were things I was expecting in this movie that I guess I was remembering from the sequel. This is entirely in the jungle and in San Francisco (because the Americans won’t be interested if we don’t take the hero to America), except for a tag with Ape in Las Vegas, and I think I was remembering more scenes in other locations that are probably from the plot of that movie.

I still like this movie as much as I did then. The naked product placement was more noticeable now, but it didn’t bother me because it was often the joke. This is my favorite Brendan Fraser movie, and he did some great work in the 90s and 00s. George of the Jungle is a friend to you and me.

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