Mighty Joe Young (1998) starring Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton, Rade Serbedzija, Peter Firth, David Paymer, Regina King, Robert Wisdom, Naveen Andrews directed by Ron Underwood Movie Review

Mighty Joe Young (1998)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Mighty Joe Young - Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton, Rade Serbedzija

Junior Kong

It may have come before the recent remake of "King Kong" but Disney's "Mighty Joe Young" feels like an attempt to deliver giant monkey sized entertainment mixed with "Gorillas in the Mist" in a way suitable for younger audiences. In reality "Mighty Joe Young" is actually a remake or at least an update of a 1949 movie but in updating has also adapted the story to a new setting and era. And it sort of works as what "Mighty Joe Young" is is a family friendly adventure movie with a blend of action and comedy to entertain those who can't pick up on the numerous rough edges that spoil this movie for older audiences.

After murderous poachers attack the mountain area which Jill Young (Charlize Theron) and her scientist mother Ruth are studying (Linda Purl), Jill not only loses her mother but also finds herself caring for Joe a baby gorilla whose mother was also murdered. Years on and Jill still looks after Joe who has grown into a legendary giant ape which lives in the mountains. But when scientist Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton - Titanic) comes face to face with Joe all that changes because the legendary giant apes safety becomes a problem even when he talks Jill into moving Joe to a special animal sanctuary as poacher Andrei Strasser (Rade Serbedzija - The Saint) is desperate to get his hands on the huge ape which he grappled with many years earlier.

Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton and David Paymer in Mighty Joe Young

"Mighty Joe Young" starts of like it's trying to deliver a "Gorillas in the Mist" set up as we meet Dr Ruth Young and her young daughter Jill who study Gorillas including a larger than normal baby they name Joe. And this leads into poachers not only killing Joe's mother but also Jill's mother, but this isn't in the slightest bit in your face. Nope this intro is toned down so younger audiences can understand about the cruelty of poachers killing Gorillas without any of the actual horror. The story then jumps several years and brings in a "King Kong" style storyline where we have scientist Gregg discovering Joe the giant ape and Jill who is now an attractive woman who spends her time protecting Joe. It's very simple stuff and also quite cliche because you know there will be some giant monkey trouble, Gregg and Jill will fall for each other and a nefarious poacher who is desperate to get his hands on Joe will show up.

This combination of "Gorillas in the Mist" and "King Kong" is so toned down to be acceptable for younger audiences that there is no depth to the story as it becomes all about action and adventure. We get chase scenes as Gregg encounters Joe for the first time and we have the adventure of him discovering how Jill has this giant ape well trained. And so it goes on in a cliche manner as we have the evil poacher Andrei Strasser trying to get his hands on Joe. In fact as an action adventure movie there is little to "Mighty Joe Young" which isn't cliche and those rumblings of romance thrown in, not because it is needed but because it is expected.

What this means is that "Mighty Joe Young" is certainly not hi-brow entertainment and the special effects are not exactly hi-brow either. To be honest there are times when the effects look quite ropey especially when we have Bill Paxton as Gregg chasing the giant ape down a mountain slope, a scene which felt reminiscent of "Twister". In a way this isn't that much of an issue as younger audiences won't pick up on the occasional ropey moment of action, as they are carried away on the actual excitement of it but for adults these moments stick out like a sore thumb.

As for the performances well functionary is what I would describe them, Bill Paxton as Gregg seems to be playing something similar to what he did in "twister" delivering that action hero thrill seeker who is easy to warm to because he is such a good guy. And whilst with Charlize Theron as Jill we get the independent women who finds city living alien from having spent her life living in and around the forest there is little depth to her character. In fact the fish out of water element as Jill finds modern living bemusing is a missed opportunity barely touched upon and so never exploiting the bounteous comedy it could have served. As for the baddies well like Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton Rade Serbedzija is solid but also unremarkable as Andrei Strasser, toned down to be acceptable for younger audiences but never becoming a corny villain.

What this all boils down to is that "Mighty Joe Young" is very much a monkey movie made for younger audiences. Whilst a remake it seems to have managed to combine elements of "Gorillas in the Mist" into a story about a giant gorilla and Jill Young who looks out for him and in doing so tones it right down so that any nastiness is skimmed over. It means that "Mighty Joe Young" is very much a stereotypical action adventure movie which will entertain younger audiences but leave older audiences wanting more.