Action (US); 1998; Rated PG; 114 Minutes
Charlize Theron: Jill Young
Bill Paxton: Gregg O'Hara
Rade Serbedgia: Strasser
Peter Firth: Garth
David Paymer: Harry Ruben
Jim Chory, Michael Fottrel, Ted Hartley, Tom Jacobson, Gail
Katz, Mark Lisson, Jackie Rubin, Gail Stutman and Ralph
Winter; Directed by Ron Underwood; Screenwritten
by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner
by DAVID KEYES
Underwood's "Mighty Joe Young" is the family film that Disney
has attempted to make for two years. They've been trying
so hard on such little time to produce quality family entertainment
that they've forgotten what their viewers like: stories
with compassion, danger, adventure, wisdom, and sometimes,
even action. It's obvious that their inside-studio productions
like "Jungle 2 Jungle" and "Mr. Magoo" were a downfall for
a hit film studio. It was like an illness that culminated
in death earlier this year with "Meet The Deedles." Most
suspected that it would be downhill from there. Others,
like me, expected a recovery period for the studio.
it's finally arrived. After they overjoyed audiences with
their charming "Parent Trap" remake last summer, they return
full-swing to the family scene with their most joyous and
playful movie of the year. "Mighty Joe Young" is built like
a Hollywood monster movie, but instead of sending young
children screaming from the theaters, it will overcome their
small spirits and warm them with love and commiseration
for the big ape they see before them. Oh no, this isn't
a movie in the childish and over-modest tradition of "Flubber."
This is King Kong, Jr., in many respects, with enough dazzle
and appeal that it will suit whatever audience finds it,
be it young or old.
guess it's the idea of such a movie that provokes the charm.
Instead of trying to accomplish everything at once, here
is a movie with just the right pace and right style to stand
above what the studio has done fairly recently. It doesn't
try to mooch off of the old King Kong or Godzilla legends.
This is a monster film, yes, but that's beside the point.
It's not so much a monster movie as much as it's a story
about acceptance, honesty, compassion, and the feeling we
get for a special living, breathing creature when it is
taken out of the habitat that best suits it. No one wants
to see animals in enclosed spaces. We want to see them free
in the wild, or showing up on National Geographic specials.
They are just as important as we humans, so why don't we
treat them as well?
movie is a self-examination of our obsession with tourism
for animals in captivity. Like "Free Willy," it involves
a fascinating wild creature, as he mourns for the loss of
his home and is comforted by a human who understands his
pain and suffering. The kid in "Free Willy" knew how anxious
and sad the Orca whale was when he was taken away from his
family. Charlize Theron, who plays Jill Young, has lived
around the giant ape Joe her entire life. They have a special
bond with each other, and no wonder. The film opens with
the loss of both of their parents, turning them into orphans.
A black market hunter named Strasser (played straightforwardly
by Rade Servedgia) kills Jill's mother as well as Joe's
with gun shot wounds. He is that steadily impatient kind
of guy who we thought we saw in "The Lost World: Jurassic
Park," but that just turned out to be wasted characterization.
This is the real thing, here: he's a cruel, heartless, and
downright viscous wildlife hunter in search of endangered
species. He shows up in this neck of the woods because of
his fascination with the legendary 'big' ape family. Because
of his gun, he leaves one small little tike alive and alone,
barely able to fend for himself. Would he let a human being
help him through his life?
know the rest of that. Oh, but a story like this isn't complete
until there's an attempt later to move Joe into the city
wildlife refuge, a decision that had been approved by Jill
herself. Why she did such a thing to such a charming gorilla,
I don't know. Once the ape is in the city and is stuck in
traffic, he gets frightened by all the noise and people
and runs wild through the city. There's even a subplot comprising
a romantic relationship between Jill and Gregg (Bill Paxton),
and Joe becomes jealous of their closeness.
plot edifice? Oh, of course, but since this is directed
towards a much more subtle and inferior audience, it works
well. The ape himself is made completely up of special effects,
and his resemblance to the real thing is uncanny. In one
great scene, when he climbs a Ferris Wheel, we get to see
a close shot of his eyes in some sort of confused and scared
state. The look in those eyes is so good that if Steven
Spielberg saw the film twenty years ago, he would have probably
reconsidered the facial structure of E.T.
does it add up? I'd like to consider this to be one of the
friendlier monster movies, where not just we special-effect
buffs will be the only ones entertained. It's thematic elements
involving animals in captivity and them running amok are
translated to a much more gentle form, so that younger audiences
will enjoy what they see. Joe is portrayed as the childlike,
simple and confused animal that younger viewers have appreciated
in these types of 'outcast-monster' movies, like "Free Willy"
and "E.T." There's even enough to earn admiration from older,
more mature audiences. It's all in Joe's eyes. Take one
look at them and you want nothing more than for him to get
safely back home.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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