[Screen It]


(1998) (Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton) (PG)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Mild Heavy *Moderate Heavy
Minor None Moderate None Mild
Smoking Tense Family
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Action/Adventure: A woman tries to save a 15-foot tall African gorilla from various dangers, including poachers and the uncertainty of moving him to America.
Deep in the jungles of Africa, Dr. Ruth Young (LINDA PURL) and her young daughter, Jill (MIKA BOOREM) are living amongst a family of gorillas, including one they've named Joe, who despite his young age, is already huge due to a rare genetic disorder. With the help of Kweli (ROBERT WISDOM), a local guide, the Youngs hope to protect the apes, but when a group of poachers led by the ruthless Strasser (RADE SHERBEDGIA) arrive, both Jill and Joe's mothers end up dead.

Twelve years later, Jill (CHARLIZE THERON) is still living in the jungles with Joe who's now a 15-foot tall, 2,000 pound gorilla. Their peaceful lives are shaken, however, when a visiting zoologist, Gregg O'Hara (BILL PAXTON), arrives looking for a legendary mountain gorilla.

His discovery that the legend is, in fact, Joe, stirs up the local poachers and bounty hunters when one of Gregg's trackers, Pindi (NAVEEN ANDREWS), sends out the word of the valuable ape. Although Jill initially distrusts Gregg, she eventually realizes that his offer to bring Joe back to America for safety concerns is her only recourse.

Once situated in a suburban Los Angeles animal sanctuary run by Harry Ruben (DAVID PAYMER) under the direction of Dr. Baker (LAWRENCE PRESSMAN), things aren't as good as they were at home, but Joe appears safe and is happy with Jill close by.

Things change, however, when Strasser, now a wealthy businessman who peddles exotic animal parts, sees Joe on the news. Wishing to nab the ape for both his inherent worth and for revenge -- Joe bit off his thumb and index finger those twelve years earlier -- Strasser and his henchman, Garth (PETER FIRTH), set out for L.A. From that point on, Jill and Gregg must not only contend with Joe's reaction to his new home, but also to the poachers who've fooled Jill into believing that they've arrived to help the large ape.

Teens may have some interest in it, while younger kids may also want to see it if they've seen the ads and don't think it's a scary "monster" movie.
For some menacing action violence and mild language.
  • CHARLIZE THERON plays a woman who's grown up with and cared for Joe, the giant ape, since she was a little girl. Throughout the film, he's her continual interest.
  • BILL PAXTON plays a zoologist who discovers Joe and persuades Jill into bringing the ape back to the U.S.
  • RADE SHERBEDGIA plays a poacher who illegally sells exotic animal parts and wishes to acquire Joe to make himself even richer.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    If the plot of "Mighty Joe Young" sounds familiar, it's probably not just because it's a remake of the 1949 RKO film of the same name that's best known for jump starting the career of legendary special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. No, it's because it bears a striking resemblance to the most famous ape movie of all time, 1933's "King Kong."

    While Joe isn't exactly Kong, Jr. (that character appeared in "Son of Kong" that hurriedly arrived in 1933 hoping to make some quick bucks), the people behind the first "Mighty Joe" -- writer Merian C. Cooper and stop motion pioneer Willis H. O'Brien -- were also responsible for the more well-known ape and his legendary movie.

    As such, the parallels between the stories (including this remake) are more than striking. An expedition to Africa discovers an oversized ape and brings him to America where he proceeds to go berserk at his grand public unveiling. With the only thing capable of calming down the ape being an attractive woman for whom the beast is particularly fond, he eventually runs amok through the city, climbs the highest structure around, and then takes a fall. Now which movie are we talking about?

    With Charlize Theron inhabiting a modernized version of the Fay Wray character, and Bill Paxton getting to do his Robert Armstrong part (and, of course, Joe plays the Kong role), everything's in place for a retreading of a familiar, but obviously not overused plot. Guess what? Despite the bland dialogue, acting, and overall predictability, the film still manages to work simply because the basic story is still quite solid.

    Of course, director Ron Underwood ("City Slickers," "Tremors") and writers Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner ("Mercury Rising," "Star Trek VI") know that the title character needs to be a likeable sort for the film to work. As such, and like any good family fare involving an animal protagonist, Joe the gorilla is a friendly character, who's smitten with Jill and enjoys playing hide- and-seek. Those qualities immediately endear him to the audience, and thus ensure that we'll care about what happens to him later in the story (above and beyond the standard "what havoc has man wrought upon nature" theme that runs through the film).

    To ensure that the audience really gets behind Joe, the filmmakers needed to make sure that he appears quite real and for the most part they've admirably succeeded. Utilizing the latest blend of computer effects (courtesy of Hoyt Yeatman and several visual effects teams), animatronics (from renowned creature/effects whiz Rick Baker) and the old standard of a guy in a gorilla suit (John Alexander), Joe nearly seamlessly interacts with his "real" surroundings and human costars.

    Eons ahead of what was possible in the original film that used the old -- but for their time, quite amazing -- stop motion animation techniques employed by legendary effects whiz Ray Harryhausen (who gets a brief walk-on part in the film), the contemporary ape effects are quite convincing. Even so, some of the other animals (notably a rhino seen in the foreground of a shot) don't completely capture that same realistic feel.

    While the humans are obviously real and their characters are all appropriately likeable (except for the villains, of course), the performers are hampered by the fact that more attention apparently went into fleshing out Joe's character than his more "advanced" genetic cousins.

    Although her character is always in the shadow of her "tall, dark, and handsome man" (both physically and in character development), Charlize Theron ("Devil's Advocate," "2 Days in the Valley") joins the illustrious ranks of Fay Wray and Jessica Lange who similarly had to act against imaginary or, at best, pieces of mechanical apes. While she doesn't get to test her lung capacity with those blood curdling screams, she does a decent enough job acting against a costar who more often than not was never on the set.

    Bill Paxton ("Twister," "The Evening Star") plays yet another Bill Paxton type part (meaning a character mostly interchangeable from one movie to the next -- although he plays this part quite well), while Rade Sherbedgia, as the bad guy, simply plays an extension of the Russian villain he inhabited in the Val Kilmer movie, "The Saint." Supporting performances by the likes of David Paymer ("City Slickers") and Regina King ("Enemy of the State") as his associate, are decent, but they don't have much time or attention to do much with their characters.

    This old-fashioned feeling film will undoubtably do much better than the last gorilla picture to hit the big screen ("Buddy"), but it's unlikely it will ever emerge from the shadow of its more famous ancestor who appeared in a much better film some sixty years ago. Good enough for what it's trying to accomplish, "Mighty Joe Young" will entertain the kids and won't bore the parents who've been brought along to see it. We give the film a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this PG-rated film. Several scenes occur that include lethal or threatened violence (including the mostly off screen shooting of a young girl's mother, but the visible and brief electrocution of a man), and may be unsettling, suspenseful, or even frightening to kids (depending on their age, level of maturity and tolerance for such material).

    Profanity is mild with only a few words occurring, but beyond all of that, there's little else of major concern in this film. Even so, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for someone in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • Some local trackers appear to be drinking (and perhaps a bit intoxicated -- seen from a distance).
  • People, including Jill and Gregg, have champagne at a reception.
  • Although we don't see any blood, Joe bites off Strasser's thumb and index finger after the man has shot his mother (we see the hand wrapped). Many years later, we see the man's hand that's missing that thumb and finger.
  • We momentarily see a slightly bloody bullet wound in a woman who's just been shot.
  • After being involved in a truck accident, Strasser has some blood on his face and shirt, while Garth has some minor scrapes on his face.
  • Obviously Strasser, Garth and the other poachers/animal traders that appear in the film have both.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense and/or frightening to younger kids (all dependant on a child's level of maturity and tolerance/exposure to such material).
  • An early scene set at night with poachers and their dogs racing through the woods, looking for the gorillas, may be a bit unsettling for younger kids. This also includes them purposefully shooting Joe's mother (impact not seen), shooting Jill's mother (impact not seen, but we hear a moan as she's hit), and Joe attacking Strasser and biting his hand.
  • Joe's first appearance as an "adult" (and subsequent ones where he acts mad and/or thrashes people and things) may be scary or unsettling to younger kids.
  • A scene where Gregg and his trackers chase Joe through the African fields may be suspenseful to some viewers (in an action-oriented way), as might a later scene where Gregg tentatively walks through the jungle canopy looking for the large gorilla.
  • Kids may be concerned that Jill leaves with Strasser and Garth, not realizing that they are the bad guys.
  • The entire ending sequence (which goes on for many minutes and involves the police chasing Joe and shooting at him, Strasser threatening to shoot Jill, as well as a raging fire at a seaside carnival where Joe climbs a burning Ferris wheel to save a boy, and then appears to be dead from a fall, etc...) may be tense to some viewers, especially younger kids.
  • Rifles/Handguns/Tranquilizer guns: Carried and/or used to threaten, sedate, or kill people and animals. See "Violence" for details.
  • A local tracker/poacher fires a rifle into the air (as he appears to be intoxicated).
  • Phrases: "Load of crap," "Dirt bags," "Screw it up," 'Bloody hell" and "Shut up."
  • None.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful and action-oriented music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 3 hells, 2 damns, 1 crap, and 4 uses of "Oh my God," 2 of "My God" and 1 use each of "God," "Swear to God" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • Jill briefly shows a tiny bit of cleavage (otherwise we nearly always see her in very tightfitting tops that accentuate her bust).
  • After seeing that Joe is playing hide-n-seek with Harry, Gregg jokes, "It's a good thing Joe didn't want to play doctor."
  • We see Strasser with a cigar in his mouth.
  • Some local trackers smoke.
  • Both Jill and Joe must deal with their mothers being shot and killed, and we briefly see a tribal funeral for Jill's mother.
  • The poaching of animals.
  • Strasser shoots Joe's mother and then does the same to Jill's mother (both die).
  • Joe (as a young gorilla) attacks Strasser and bites off his thumb and index finger (not graphically seen). Another poacher then hits Joe with his rifle butt.
  • Being chased by Gregg and his trackers, Joe smashes one of their jeeps, and damages others, resulting in some (mostly unseen) injuries.
  • Joe purposefully flicks Gregg with his large finger, knocking the man to the ground.
  • Jill smashes Gregg's camcorder against a tree.
  • Kweli pushes a poacher backwards after that man and Jill exchange words.
  • Angry upon seeing Garth, Joe tears up his grounds and knocks down a tree that nearly hits Harry in a nearby tent. Moments later, Joe's inside that tent, knocking people aside (and we hear him accidentally step on one man's leg) as he tries to get to Garth and more specifically, Strasser (but he's sedated with tranquilizers before that happens).
  • A security guard enters Joe's cell and holds his shotgun on Gregg and others who are trying to free the ape. In turn, Jill shoots the man with a tranquilizer dart.
  • Upon realizing the identities of Strasser and Garth (while riding between them in a semi's cab), Jill elbows Strasser in the face, hits him again and then kicks Garth in the head. She then dangles from the truck door as it goes down the street as one of the men removes his gun and prepares to shoot her, but she jumps to the street before that happens.
  • Joe then knocks over the semi (from the inside), tears through the metal side and escapes, causing several cars to crash into each other. He also lands on top of another car, and repeatedly smashes another (for comic effect) when its car alarm won't stop.
  • Garth throws a man from a truck after he and Strasser "car jack" it (at gunpoint).
  • Police shoot at Joe from a helicopter.
  • As panic grips a seaside carnival, several people are knocked over.
  • Strasser hits Garth with a rifle butt and knocks him out after that man prevents his boss from shooting Jill.
  • Joe picks up a bad guy and tosses him through a sign where he then falls onto some power wires, killing him by electrocution.

  • Reviewed December 16, 1998 / Posted on December 25, 1998

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