So there I was last week, flying at 35,000 feet over some square-shaped state, my attention split between the kid running up and down the aisle and the movie I could halfway hear and only slightly see.
At least the movie was something I didn’t need to take seriously. Same for the kid.
Problem was, the movie was something that was designed to appeal to both of us - Baby Boomers who watched television way back when and kids who watch TV now.
And even if other generations might think that 40/50-somethings and pre-adolescents have a lot in common - self-absorption being at the top of the list - that commonality extends only occasionally to movies. Especially movies such as the recent remake of “Leave It to Beaver.”
Now, “Beaver” isn’t even coming out on video until Jan. 20. So don’t go down to your local store looking for it.
But do go anyway. Because what you will find this week is a bit more entertaining: the live-action adaptation of the ‘60s-era Jay Ward cartoon show “George of the Jungle” (see capsule review below).
“George of the Jungle,” an afternoon offering that ran from 1967-‘71, was probably best known for its hummable theme song (words and lyrics by Stan Ward and Sheldon Allman). But in the hands of screenwriters Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells, director Sam Weisman and stars Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann and John Cleese, the movie is a kid’s offering that avoids the obvious stupidity so prevalent in the rest of what passes these days for children’s entertainment.
Not to mention most of the mean-spirited, John (“Home Alone”) Hughes kind of slapstick - even with all those scenes of clumsy George slamming into trees.
Ignore that. In the end, “George” doesn’t depend on those moments, which are merely a carryover from the cartoon, to propel its storyline. The movie actually boasts character development and a sense of comedy that depends on intelligent parody instead of flatulence jokes.
Which begs the question: What exactly goes into a quality children’s film? Some would say comedy blended with compassion. Some would say real-life feelings buoyed by a sense of the fantastic. Some would say traditional themes adapted to modern times.
Based on the majority of today’s children’s films, Hollywood apparently defines quality as peewee hockey players masquerading as Mario Lemieux or tennis-shoed protagonists smashing bricks into the bad guy’s groin.
A colleague of mine offered his own opinion about what makes a children’s film funny recently when he took his 9-year-old son to see “Rocket Man” (don’t ask).
About halfway through, he turned to the boy and said - his words dripping with irony - “You know, Jack, what this movie needs is more fart jokes.”
“Daa-aaad!” his son replied.
Now there’s a pre-adolescent with taste.
George of the Jungle
Incorporating some of the best aspects of “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (mainly an overly dramatic off-screen narrator), this adaptation of the formerly popular afternoon cartoon series features a buff Brendan Fraser as the tree-banging vine-swinger.
The live-action comedy never takes itself too seriously, and actually emphasizes character development and self-parody over the standard assortment of flatulence jokes. It’s no classic, but it is both harmless and funny - no small feat these days. Rated PG
Speed 2: Cruise Control
In another of last summer’s much-anticipated sequels, Sandra Bullock returns for another adventure with director Jan De Bont (“Speed,” “Twister”).
This time, instead of an impromptu bus ride with Keanu Reeves, she goes on an ocean cruise with boyfriend Jason Patric, a daredevil Los Angeles cop. The fireworks are provided by Willem Dafoe, a troubled computer genius who threatens to blow everyone up.
There is enough Caribbean scenery to entertain most everyone, and Patric is an able substitute for Reeves, but this is no improvement over the original film.
De Bont’s annoyingly jerky camera seldom stays still, the personable and appealing Bullock is given virtually nothing to do, the plot twists range from the incredible to the absurd and the climactic crash scene is overdone and about five minutes too long.
If such things don’t bother you, however, “Speed 2” should provide a couple of hours of painless escapism. Rated PG-13
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