Mighty Joe Young

This 1998 remake of the original 1949 RKO film Mighty Joe Young has heart as Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron cement their stardom in this African adventure that eventually moves into the urban setting of Los Angeles, California. Look for star Terry Moore and stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen from the original film in a special cameo as a couple at a gala.

Director Ron Underwood (Parenthood, City Slickers) shines the spotlight on the fifteen-foot-tall gorilla, played by John Alexander, a frequent collaborator with the famous effects guru Rick Baker who earned an Oscar nomination with his crew for this film’s impressive special effects.

Bill Paxton plays a professor, zoologist and emmisary named Gregory “Gregg” O’Hara while Charlize Theron as Jill Young, the daughter of a U.S. researcher who raised Joe in the remote mountains of Central Africa.

The antagonistic poachers are lead by Rade Šerbedžija (Taken 2, The Saint, Mission: Impossible II) who plays Andrei Strasser with his right-hand man Garth, played by Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October, Equus).

Other supporting characters includeCecily Banks, played by Regina King (Jerry Maguire), Pindi, played by Naveen Andrews (TV’s Lost) and Harry Ruben, played by David Paymer (Get Shorty, Mr. Saturday Night).

Theron has some touching scenes with the gorilla, but the plot stays mostly circumstantial, like most action movies. the characters have little depth and the ending is very predictable, but screenwriters Mark Rosenthal (2001’s Planet of the Apes) and Lawrence Konner (plus story by Merian C. Cooper and an earlier screenplay by Ruth Rose) do make a good attempt in the beginning flashback scenes.  Just the essentials in this crowd pleaser – nothing the general audience can’t follow.

Some funny dialogue helps ramp up the entertainment value. “The ocean’s that way, the mountains are that way, Mexico’s that way, and Canada’s thataway. You don’t have to worry about the rest; you’ll never see it through the smog,” Greg says.

The special effects help make Joe more real for the audience who can identify with feelings of fitting in and searching for a home. The multi-layered themes and lessons help put some much needed emotion into the story. James Horner’s musical score enhances this film as well.

Mighty Joe Young comes recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars). Rated PG for some menacing action violence and mild language.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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