hey, remember the '90s?
25 Years Ago, Brendan Fraser Made The Perfect Himbo Comedy & It's Streaming Now On Disney+
🎶 George, George, George of the Jungle... Watch out for that tree! 🎶
Think back to 1997, it was a bananas year for cinema. I can’t even begin to tell you every movie that came out that year. But, if you’re an elder millennial like me, just trust me that a shocking number of movies that defined of your coming-of-age were released in 1997. Titanic, Men In Black, My Best Friends’ Wedding, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, Good Will Hunting, Contact, Austin Powers, to scratch the surface. In a year of non-stop hits, it’s easy to understand, perhaps, how I missed Disney’s live-action movie George of the Jungle. I had a lot going on.
I couldn’t mess around with shirtless Brendan Fraser slamming into trees, not when I could watch Leo and Kate getting steamy in a carriage on the big screen. I was a pre-teen with a limited Regal budget. You get it.
Thanks to my 5-year-old, and my husbands’ determination to watch something other than the Phineas and Ferb movie for our once-a-week family movie night, I finally watched George of the Jungle in this, my 39th year. I get that Brendan Fraser just won an Oscar and I know he deserved it, but if you’re not up for The Whale — I have two little kids and work full time, I am not in a place for The Whale, myself — may I suggest George of the Jungle instead?
Perhaps hints of Fraser’s future theatrical achievements lurk in his performance as George, the partially-verbal jungle inhabitant and barely-clothed (and yes, ripped) love interest of a young Leslie Mann. Or not! Actually, you could argue that this movie is the balls-to-the-wall opposite of Oscar bait. Released on July 16, 1997, George of the Jungle is true Hollywood deep-summer blockbuster fun. It owns its genre, like so many of its fellow ‘97 releases.
Brendan Fraser smacks into trees in the George of the Jungle movie trailer.
Soaked in the carefree frivolity of the late ‘90s — that moment when San Francisco seemed cool and “alt,”, but before Y2K stress set in — and filmed in SF and Hawai’i, George of the Jungle is pitch-perfect, movie-night-with-the-kids fluff. It’s like a platonic ideal movie night film, the kind of casually-enjoyable movie that seems like it should be easy to come by, but isn’t.
Sunny and silly, George of the Jungle walks a miraculous tightrope of checked family movie boxes: It’s a tight 90 minutes (a must), hilarious to a kid, enjoyable to an adult, not scary, the worst bad word is “ass,” peril is brief and encased in so much slapstick humor that it’s entirely defanged.
Giving a movie this light, airy and almost-plotless the essay-treatment feels, honestly, almost kind of frivolous. But there’s something so happy-making about rediscovering this movie as a parent, that I’ve been telling all of our friends to watch it with their kids. And now, I’m telling you. I feel a little silly about like, talking up a movie that most of us remember primarily as “the one with a shirtless Brendan Fraser.”
Most weekends, we let my 5-year-old Griffin have a “movie night,” which means he gets to stay up after his little sister goes to bed and watch a movie with me and his dad. Popcorn is popped, special candy is selected, and we three cuddle up under a big blanket to watch a movie of his choice. Left to his own devices, “his choice” is usually something we’ve all seen a million times (I’m looking at you, Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars), so if my husband and I want to also enjoy the movie night, we have to come prepared with trailers that just might entice him into watching something we’d all actually enjoy. George was a recent win for all. I also think this is a sweet-spot movie that could amuse an older kid without terrifying a younger sibling, which (I imagine) is its own challenging niche.
I’m not sure why the movie has only garnered 55% on Rotten Tomatoes — as far as my 5-year-old and I are concerned, George of the Jungle has all the makings of a perfect night in. You can almost feel the trade winds blowing in the few scenes that appear to have been shot on location in Kauai. You’ll enjoy John Cleese as a jaded chimpanzee — and don’t worry, there’s (blessedly) nary a CGI animal in sight. If your kid is anything like mine, you’ll enjoy watching them laugh harder than you’ve ever seen them laugh when the bumbling “bad guys” — lead by Thomas Hayden Church — injure themselves repeatedly. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the joy of this movie for you. It has it all, and that’s all it has. It’s so beautifully simple, just hit play on Disney+, pass the Red Vines, and let it wash over you.
If you want further evidence that this movie rules, way back when, Roger Ebert himself gave the movie a thumbs up. His release-day review called it: “well-positioned for the silly season, when we've had just about all of the terrorist explosions we need for one summer and it's still too hot for the autumn art films.”
So get everyone into their PJs, grab the junkiest movie snacks you’ve got, and watch out for that tree!