July 16, 1997 – The Live-Action Feature Film George of the Jungle is Released to Theaters
“He is swift, he is strong, he is sure, he is smart, he is unconscious.”
On July 16, 1997, the live-action feature film George of the Jungle was released to theaters. It was based on the animated series of the same name, produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott back in the late 1960s. The film makes great use of the radio telemetry system designed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop for the movements of the animals in the film. The film, although receiving mixed reviews, went on to be a box office success, earning more than $174 million. It was written by Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells, and directed by Sam Weisman. The film stars Brendan Fraser as George, Leslie Mann as Ursula, Thomas Haden Church as Lyle, Greg Cruttwell as Max, Abraham Benrubi as Thor, Holland Taylor as Ursula’s mother, and John Cleese as the voice of Ape.
The film begins with an animated sequence about a plane crash in the Bukuvu, located in the heart of Africa, where a baby named George was separated from his family and raised in the jungle. Twenty-five years later, George is the somewhat klutzy King of the Jungle. A ways away, an heiress named Ursula is exploring Africa with a group of explorers, when her fiancée Lyle shows up to surprise her. Lyle manages to annoy Ursula’s tour guides, although his thugs Max and Thor bring up the legend of the “White Ape,” which intrigues the thugs (for financial reasons), and Ursula (for curiosity’s sake). The apes warn George about the intruders as they approach Ape Mountain. Lyle insults the guides more and more, and after the guides embarrass him in retaliation, he grabs Ursula and takes her into the jungle to find the White Ape. Unfortunately, they are met with a lion. Lyle tries to run away and knocks himself unconscious, but George steps in and saves Ursula, sweeping her away on a vine; he accidentally knocks her out, however, when he hits a tree. Lyle wakes up to see George carrying her away, and thinks the White Ape has kidnapped Ursula. He then pretends that he’s been viciously attacked to get the sympathy of the tour group.
George takes Ursula back to his treehouse, and she wakes up the next morning to find her savior. She comes across an ape named Ape bringing her breakfast, and is frightened beyond belief. She passes out again after she hears Ape talk, and when George tries to help her, he discovers that she’s the female of his species, which he finds strange as he’s never met a girl before. After she wakes up again, she thanks George for saving her life, and asks him for help in finding her group. He calls for his “dog,” an elephant named Shep, and they head off to find Lyle and her group. After a while, however, she forgets all about Lyle and decides to just enjoy her adventure with George. George gets the news from the Tooky Tooky bird that a small monkey needs George’s help, and they rush to the rescue. Ursula is touched by how George helps the little monkey. She is less than enthusiastic about trying vine swinging again, even more so when George crashes into a tree.
Later, Ape realizes that George has fallen in love with Ursula, and tries to teach George how to make Ursula his mate, which does not go well when put into practice. George tries again later with more human methods, and the two dance together. Lyle’s group continues to search for Ursula, with the hopes in capturing the White Ape. Max and Thor are disappointed in finding that George is the White Ape, and Lyle decides to go in and take Ursula back while threatening George with his lighter, which looks convincingly like a gun. Thor gets ready to shoot Shep for his ivory, but Ape jumps in the way and tells Shep to run for his life. Upon hearing Ape talk, Max decides that they’ll get their fortune by kidnapping Ape and making him perform. George tries to save Ape, but Lyle shoots George with his lighter, which turns out to be a real gun after all. Ursula takes George back to the San Francisco, Max and Thor are going to be deported, and Lyle is arrested for shooting George. Ursula takes George back to her apartment, where he is overwhelmed by her concrete jungle.
The next morning, her best friend Betsy arrives, and is immediately attracted to George, although she realizes that Ursula is stuck on George. As Ursula helps George get acclimated to the human world, the animals are going crazy while missing George. Later Ursula heads to work, warning George to stay in the apartment. However, George decides to venture outside, exploring San Francisco, and deciding to climb the Bay Bridge. He spies a parasailer stuck in the cables of the bridge, and decides to swing in on a cord and save the man. Ursula is watching the action unfold on television at her job and rushes to the Bay Bridge. George saves the man, but is whisked away by the parasail. He ends up flying into the boat nearby where Ursula is, and she is happy to see him, giving him a great big hug. Unfortunately, Ursula’s meddling mother sees the action unfolding as well. Meanwhile, in the jungle, Max and Thor finally kidnap Ape, although Ape is sure to send Tooky Tooky to find George.
Ursula finally tells her parents the truth: she doesn’t want to marry Lyle. Her mother is furious, but her father is more understanding. George, however, doesn’t make the best first impression, as he crashes into the cake. Ursula’s mother decides to take matters into her own hands, and threatens George to stay away from her daughter. Later that night, Tooky Tooky finds George and gives him the bad news about Ape. Although reluctant to leave Ursula, he does, but leaves her his good luck charm. The next morning, Ursula goes to her parents, wondering why George left. She finds that her mother had something to do with George’s leaving, and finally realizes that she is indeed in love with George. Understanding this, she decides to go after George. George finally makes it back to Africa, after shipping himself there by UPS, and rushes off to save Ape. He arrives at the mangled treehouse, just in time to find Max and Thor, along with Ape, and decides to attack. Shep arrives with Tooky Tooky to help George, as does Ursula. With their help, George defeats the thugs and saves Ape. Unfortunately, before Ursula can tell George that she loves him, Lyle appears, having broken out of jail to join a small cult. The members of the cult capture George, allowing Lyle to take Ursula away to marry her, as the cult has made him an ordained minister.
George gets help from his brother apes and Shep, and runs after Ursula. Lyle drags Ursula through the jungle, and they end up careening down Ape River. George finally catches up with them, and manages to save Ursula after crashing into a tree. Lyle meets an unfortunate end, accidentally marrying a female ape. Soon after, Ursula and George get married in the jungle, and everyone celebrates. They are later seen living in the jungle with their young son, with George remarking that “he’s just lucky.” Meanwhile, Ape heads off to be a headliner in Las Vegas.