Mighty Joe Young

“I was having dinner with Rex [Reed]. I had received an offer for another big action movie at the same time Disney contacted me for Mighty Joe. I asked Rex which movie he thought I should take. He said: ‘Paxton, while you still have some looks left, do the monkey movie. It’s a lead. The other film is just a supporting role. You’ll get enough of those sooner than you’d like.’ ”
– Bill Paxton

Mighty Joe Young is Disney’s remake of the 1949 RKO Pictures classic. This time around, the story of a giant ape in the big city has been updated with a social conscience, some spectacular African scenery, and impressive special effects, including the animatronic Mighty Joe himself. And this time, Joe is brought to a California nature preserve in order to protect him from poachers who threaten him in his African home. But even in Hollywood, Joe is not safe from the poachers, nor is Hollywood safe from Joe.

Bill plays Gregg O’Hara, the naturalist who brings Joe and his protector-companion, Jill Young, to California. He’s a likeable guy, sweet-natured and enthusiastic, and determined to do right by Joe and Jill and pretty much everybody that crosses his path. Plain and simple, he’s a good guy.

Okay, it’s a Disney movie, and as such, it’s bound to be wholesome and heart-warming and not terribly complicated. Not generally my favorite cup of tea, but Mighty Joe Young manages for the most part to be sweet without being cloying, funny without being silly. And if it crosses the line every now and then, I’m willing to overlook it for the sake of all the things that work.

Well, Bill sure is a cutie. Charmingly scruffy in the Africa scenes, yummy in a white tux, he’s earnest and wide-eyed and fluffy as a Disney bunny. My only complaint is that whoever dressed him in the California scenes passed up a perfectly good opportunity to put him in jeans and cowboy boots. Not that the white slacks aren’t attractive, but besides being awfully un-Bill-like, it’s hard to figure this particular character coming in from months in the jungle and dressing up like a Miami Vice refugee.

Still, there’s a lot to like—lots of screen time, a few bruises, an almost kiss, some gorilla hand-holding, all amid some spectacular scenery. Watch and enjoy.

Three stars, for a cute Bill, a pretty good movie, and a real big gorilla.

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