Despite a gag about replacing Brendan Fraser in the movie itself, the publicity materials from Disney act as if Mr. Showerman doesn’t really exist. Nowhere on the packaging for George of the Jungle 2 will you see his name, in hopes that people will just glance at the cover and assume it’s the same old George. Even in the film credits, the villainous Thomas Haden Church gets top billing, but it’s Showerman’s movie.
There. It’s out of my system. By his own admission, the studio was too cheap to pay Fraser, so Showerman was put in a thankless role — almost literally. But he pulls it off. He has more of the appropriate jungle king physique, and some of the dimbulb charm. The same could be said for the rest of this sequel.
It looks a lot like the first one, though the narrator (same one) notes that they’re using a different set as well as a different George. But of course. Disney has perfected the art of direct-to-video sequels, spending a little less while at worst coming up with something inoffensive. Everything you might think would make the story work is here: more jungle animals, some animatronic, some CG. Just as in the first, the film makes excuses to put George in the “real” world to demonstrate his mystification at big city sophistication. (Though director David Grossman and writer Jordan Kerner have him confused with a Flintstone – each modern convenience has some sort of jungle analog.)
Individual scenes exist solely to make kids laugh at the silliness, because, well, gorillas in cheerleading outfits are funny, even though they bear no relation to the rest of the film. Those scenes that do feed the plot, involving Ursula (now Julie Benz) being hypnotized into forgetting George, occasionally hit. Allowing a desperate Lyle VanderGroot (Church) to try to imitate George’s charm both acknowledges and builds upon the first film.
There are even a couple of moments that contain subtext – though he has no interest in gambling, everything George touches in Vegas turns out to be a winner. His mantra is, after all, “George just lucky.” But it also suffers from overstuffing. If one talking ape is funny, then let’s let them all talk! Then add in a celebrity as a mean lion (Michael Clarke Duncan), but not too mean, because this is a children’s film. The visual reference to The Lion King worked really well in the first movie, so let’s do it with a lion this time! The writer just doesn’t quite get what worked, so he multiplies the obvious things.
Having the animals talk (which they didn’t in the first movie or the cartoon series, except for Cleese’s “Brother Ape”) opens up the Goofy/Pluto conundrum. How can one species of dog be sentient and another not? Why the gorillas and the lions, but not the chimps, elephants and tookie birds? And what kind of a saint can stay married to someone like me when questions like these actually occupy my time? No matter. George of the Jungle 2 is not great art, and a lot of its warmth feels a bit forced. But it is reasonably entertaining.
In the extras department, Disney introduces its young fans to the concept of the blooper reel, which somehow feels hollow now that Pixar has stopped doing it. Yet my daughter laughed really hard when the kangaroo got his head stuck in the ceiling, so go figure.
There’s the usual trivia/video game included, set to an afternoon of vine surfing a la Disney’s Tarzan. (George does do it near the end of the movie, with far more realistic results.) These set top games get wearing on parents, but they do encourage active listening in kids, so they’re a surprisingly useful extra.
Included, too, are deleted scenes with director’s commentary (not an option for the film itself), something that perhaps older elementary school kids might find interesting. Mostly relegated to explaining why the scenes were cut, it’s a good introduction to storytelling. The deleted scenes also showcase the underrated Church, improvising responses to a flatulence joke. Some are pretty funny.
Finally, the DVD skewers the obligatory behind the scenes documentary, with the film’s narrator interrupting the documentary’s narrator to point out how trite the whole thing has become. As a school-age satire, it works pretty well, and he’s right: we’ve seen enough about how green screen works.
If you must get George of the Jungle 2 (and in some households, such a purchase is a given), it won’t be a disappointment. Unless you really wanted Brendan Fraser to return.
Remember: Christopher Showerman.