The joy that comes from hearing the bouncy theme song again soon subsides in Cartoon Network’s lame-brained new “George of the Jungle,” which trades on the Jay Ward classic’s name but exhibits none of its wit. The 1960s Tarzan spoof, one of those too-good-for-kids cartoons, followed the dense George as he happily sauntered through life, flanked by his much-smarter pal Ape and femme companions. Yet if those toons were clever and George was dumb, the reverse has become the case — as if somebody crashed into one too many trees.
Ward’s daughter Tiffany is among the show’s producers, but precious little from the “George” that swung into living rooms in 1967 (subsequently brought to life in a feature adaptation starring Brendan Fraser) has survived the rebirthing, beginning with a slimmed-down design that makes the character considerably less visually interesting and a rap element that bastardizes the title theme. Nor has George’s oafish voice (initially provided by Bill Scott, now by Lee Tockar) made the leap, or for that matter the refined tones that once characterized his ape friend Ape.
The new George remains something of a jungle bumpkin, but the pacing has seemingly been informed by the “Family Guy” school of modern animation (the story editors cut their teeth on “Futurama”), in which jokes are fired out at such a rapid-fire pace, you needn’t worry whether they’re funny or not — it’s deemed enough that another one will be along momentarily. So in the first shorts (two per half-hour), George is drawn into a frenetic interspecies dispute and triggers a strange “circle of life” crisis by pummeling the jungle’s predators for attempting to feast on their natural prey.
It is, in short, a disappointingly wan version of the big guy that has eliminated most of the fun — such as the initial absence of his elephant Shep, who behaves like a Golden Retriever — in pursuit of hipness, the irony being that the original was extremely popular among high school and college kids in its heyday.
Cartoon Network has tapped into that demographic today with its Adult Swim latenight block, but the channel has frankly squandered a golden opportunity to introduce Ward’s ’60s cool to its current primetime lineup — another reminder that when it comes to remakes and revivals, the banana tends to fall far from the tree.