By Ron Wells | December 28, 1998

If it were, say 1974, Disney would have made this monkey movie with Kurt Russell and Tuesday Weld in the leads, with Tim Conway as the head of the nature preserve (then called zoos). Other than the roles now played by Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron and David Paymer, there isn’t any difference.
The original version from 1949 starred Ben Johnson and Terry Moore with Ray Harryhausen delivering the groundbreaking special effects (Harryhausen and Moore appear in a party scene). The new version seems to have more in common with such Disney family movies as “Gus” and “The Greatest Athlete in the World”. Jill Young (Theron) lives with her mother in Africa who’s engaged in ape research. One day her mother is shot by poachers Strasser and Garth (Rade Sherbedgia and Perter Firth) along with the mother of the young ape, Joe. Her dying wish is for Jill to look after Joe.
20 years later, Jill, now an adult, has more to fear from poachers than ever. Joe carries a rare recessive gene for gigantism, and is now 15 feet tall. Shunned by other apes, he only has Jill, who can’t protect him. Enter Gregg O’Hara (Paxton) who offers to take Joe to the nature preserve in California where he works. Jill soon agrees, but now the big monkey is an easier target for the mean old poachers. Joe puts some wear and tear on Los Angeles city landmarks.
DON’T GO unless you have CHILDREN. Look at the big “G” at the top; this is not “Gorillas in the Mist”. This is not an artistic statement. Director Ron Underwood (“City Slickers”, “Tremors”) is just trying to get the job done, which is keeping the kids occupied for 90 minutes. Which is sad, since the best kids’ movies try to teach you a little something about the world, or a morality lesson. If it’s any good, you don’t know until it’s over. I only learned two things from this movie. FIRST, “poachers BAD” and something about how animals should be left in their natural habitat. It’s hard to tell as I got hit over the head with it pretty hard.
SECOND, I guess I learned I should have gone to see “Babe: Pig in the City” before it leaves town. It’s the kid flick this year that’s a keeper.

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