As played by Brendan Fraser in a loincloth picturesquely referred to as a ”butt flap,” George, the human primate raised by apes who’s the star of George of the Jungle (Walt Disney), has a bod for sin and a head for eating bananas. George is strong, friendly, and agile. But he has never nailed the landing of that swinging-from-vines-like-they-do-in-the-movies maneuver. Hence ”Watch out for that tree!” the punchline to the catchy theme music from the hip animated cartoon series of the same name, which ran on ABC in the late 1960s.

The animated George, a parody of Tarzan, came out of the beatnik-hep animation workshop of Jay Ward Productions (the home of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and featured George regularly crashing into immovable objects, chatting with his erudite simian mentor (named, reasonably, Ape), and pausing for interruptions by a wiseacre narrator. The Disney George, conceived as yet another postmodern live-action interpretation of a nostalgia-inducing animated TV cartoon, doesn’t have quite the avant-garde edge of the old stuff (slamming into trees isn’t nearly as funny when there’s a real face squashed against the bark, no matter how ”safely” stylized). But there are enough winking touches of Ward-style lunacy in this brightly colored production from director Sam Weisman (D2: The Mighty Ducks) and screenwriters Dana Olsen (The Burbs) and Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats & Dogs) to give this George the kind of sophisticated split-level appeal of the original. Like a monkey insistently pelting passersby with banana peels, the movie hits you on the head until you laugh.

The story barely matters: something about a cute, blond, plucky heiress called Ursula (The Cable Guy‘s Leslie Mann, doing the kind of wide-eyed child-woman who’s a staple cartoon heroine), in the jungle with her stuffy fiance, Lyle (Thomas Haden Church from TV’s Ned and Stacey, made to play prigs), who falls into peril and is rescued by George, with guidance from Ape, voiced by that Fierce Creature himself, John Cleese. Then the action shifts to San Francisco, and there’s something about Ursula’s impending big-bucks wedding to Lyle, with the redoubtable Holland Taylor (TV’s The Naked Truth) doing a full society-dame number as Ursula’s mother, and George swinging from cables on the Golden Gate Bridge, and Ursula realizing, of course, she’s in love with George — as who wouldn’t be, given the pulchritude of his primate pecs…

What matters is that Fraser, previously primitive in Encino Man, is so appealingly game — and therefore funny — in his Nicolas Cage-in-Con Air hair, as he tries to make sense of his very human attraction to Ursula, that he charms the butt flaps off you. The narration makes use of patented Ward gimmicks, including interrupting and replaying scenes. And if all else fails (and lest younger viewers become bored), there are several rip-roaring instances of flatulence and one escapade involving Lyle falling face forward into a hefty pile of elephant manure. Watch out for that…etc. B

George of the Jungle
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