A correction was made to this review on Oct. 26, 2003.
One of the finest and funniest made-for-video sequels ever released on the Disney label, “George of the Jungle 2” offers an unusually satisfying mix of kid-friendly broad comedy and knowing pop culture parody. Pic should please nostalgic baby boomers as well as attention deficient tykes as a worthy follow-up to the 1997 smash hit based on cult-fave ’60s Jay Ward cartoon series. Expect record-setting, franchise-encouraging rental and sell-through biz.
Helmer David Grossman and scripter Jordan Moffet set tone of in-jokey, self-referential tomfoolery early on, when omniscient narrator (Keith Scott, an alumnus of original “George”) questions recasting of title role with newcomer Christopher Showerman. “Me new George,” actor blithely explains. “Studio too cheap to pay Brendan Fraser.”
Showerman quickly establishes himself as apt substitute, evidencing the same qualities — hunky physique, gracefully klutzy physicality — Fraser brought to the faux Tarzan character. Just as important, Showerman conveys, much like Fraser, a dim-bulb earnestness laced with engaging sweetness, along with a genial willingness to be the butt of many (if not most) jokes.
Sequel begins five years after first “George of the Jungle,” with George balancing work and family responsibilities in his jungle tree house. He’s a loving husband to Ursula (a nicely perky Julie Benz), the San Francisco socialite he wooed and won in previous pic, and a nurturing father to their precocious son, George Jr. (Angus T. Jones).
But George must contend with a roaring rival, Mean Lion (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), who challenges our hero for the King of the Jungle title. Meanwhile, Ursula’s disapproving mother (Christina Pickles) plots to lure her daughter and grandson back to civilization — with the dubious assistance of Ursula’s ex-fiance, Lyle Van de Groot (Thomas Haden, another returnee from “George 1”), who now operates a Las Vegas casino.
Freewheeling plot ricochets between jungle kingdom and Vegas strip as George struggles to preserve his family, retain his crown — and rescue his best buddy, Ape (voiced by John Cleese, yet another returnee), who’s forced to work off a huge gambling debt to de Groot by singing in the casino showroom. (So what does he sing? “Hey, hey, I’m a monkey,” of course.)
Special effects and animatronic creations — including a frisky elephant and a boxing kangaroo — are feature quality. But while youngsters are impressed by high-tech trickery and amused by antic slapstick, adults likely will be more entertained by pic’s cheeky allusions to everything from “King Kong” to “The Lion King,” “Charlie’s Angels” to Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
Anything-goes attitude of original Jay Ward cartoons often prevails, especially when narrator demonstrates just how omniscient he really is.
Reps for Caterpillar Corp. have filed suit to demand removal of a scene in which bad guys try to raze George’s jungle kingdom with company’s trademarked bulldozers. If pic is indeed recalled for re-editing, Disney also might want to consider, in light of the recent accident in Las Vegas, removing the line: “Feeling more alone than Siegfried without Roy…”