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A Likable 'Jungle' Gem

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 18, 1997

"George of the Jungle,"an engaging cartoon TV series, made much of its few good things: There was George, the navigationally-challenged, vine-swinging jungleboy who kept slamming into trees. There was his adopted family of eccentric animals, including Shep the elephant, who acted more like a retriever than a mastodon, and George’s furry Svengali, a talking ape called, well, Ape.

Most memorably, there was that jungle-drumming musical theme which almost everyone over 30 remembers -- and apparently feels compelled to sing upon mere mention of the series: "George, George, George of the Jungle,/ Strong as he can be./ George, George, George of the Jungle,/ Watch out for that tree!"

Older kids who grew up on "George of the Jungle," which debuted in 1967 and has swung through the syndicated vines ever since, are now big enough to make their own movies. Which is why we have the 1997 live-action version which takes one riff, one muscular star familiar to youngsters (Brendan Fraser, the prehistoric guy from "Encino Man") and a reasonably amusing attitude (sight gags for the kids, a witty narrator for the parents), and makes the whole thing surprisingly pleasant.

Lost as a child in the jungle, George (Fraser) has grown up in a treehouse with his beloved pals, Ape (the voice of John Cleese), Shep, Little Monkey and a bird called Tookie.

But his leafy paradise is threatened by two safaris, the first headed by Ursula (Leslie Mann), a bubbly San Francisco heiress who’s searching ostensibly for the mythical White Ape of Ape Mountain. Actually, she’s ducking her engagement to a cad called Lyle Van de Groot (Thomas Haden Church), who has hired a second party to follow her.

Snooty Lyle, who thinks he can knock sense into his reluctant fiancee’s head, is unaware that his henchmen (Greg Cruttwell and Abraham Benrubi) are after a different prize: the bounty on George’s talking friend, Ape.

When George (in his inimitably bumbling way) manages to save Ursula from the jaws of a lion, it’s clear where this story’s heading. But there are many diversions to enjoy on the way, including a protracted tangle with Lyle and his boys, Shep’s earth-pounding antics, fun with the local guides (headed by Richard Roundtree) who tease Lyle in Swahili, George’s fish-out-of-water escapades in San Francisco (watch him bungee-jump from Golden Gate Bridge) and, of course, George’s supreme inability to avoid upright trees. Owwwww! But don’t worry, parents. As the narrator informs us, there will be no deaths in this movie, "only really bad boo boos."

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE (PG) — Contains minor profanity.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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