Parents' Guide to

Mighty Joe Young (1998)

By Ellen MacKay, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 7+

Successful remake is thrilling family fun.

Movie PG 1998 116 minutes
Mighty Joe Young (1998) Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 10+

Based on 8 parent reviews

age 13+

Serious gun violence here

age 11+

Intense, Emotional and Violent - Not for Animal Lovers!

Warning - Spoilers Below! I've been using Commonsense Media for years - probably about 7 now. But, this is the first time I've felt compelled to write a review myself. I started watching this film on Disney Plus with my 9 (almost 10) year old son, who has ASD. Within the first 15 minutes, a woman has been shot by poachers (accidentally), a baby gorilla's (Joe's) mother has also been killed (by the same poachers) and Joe has bitten off the thumb and finger of the lead poacher, setting the scene for a lifetime vendetta. My son found these scenes very distressing and refused to watch anymore of the movie. I, however, continued, since the movie is rated 5 stars and suggested for 7 year olds and up. I figured 'Must be worth viewing if it's rated 5 stars and if it's suggested for 7 and up, it will probably get less intense after this bit ...'. I was wrong (about it getting less intense) ... Only a few minutes later, Joe, now fully grown into a 2,000-pound gentle giant, is being chased by four or five jeeps through the African wilderness, albeit with a American wildlife conservationist in one of them, trying to get close enough to get a sample of blood from him - not sure why. Joe is moved to a wildlife conservation park in California to keep him 'safe' but the poachers see him on TV and follow him there, deliberately making him anxious, which leads to him going on a rampage and causing chaos at a fundraising dinner at the conservation park. He is put in a cage, where he becomes depressed and refuses to eat. The daughter of the woman murdered at the beginning of the film grows up caring for Joe. She is tricked by the lead poacher to help Joe escape from the cage he has been placed in and take him to his 20,000-acre wildlife park in Botswana (which is a cover location for his poaching operation), What follows is even more intense and emotional as Joe escapes the truck and rampages throughout Hollywood, being pursued by the SWAT team in helicopters with rifles. Joe ends up at an amusement park, the lead poacher tries to murder the woman - his carer - and is ultimately killed himself when Joe tosses him onto electrical wires in self defence - and also to protect his carer (the lovely Charlize Theron). From there, the amusement park catches on fire, policemen are still threatening to kill Joe and a small boy is trapped at the top of a Ferris Wheel that is burning. Eventually, Joe climbs the Ferris Wheel to attempt to rescue the boy, which it seems that he's done successfully, when the supports collapse from the fire and the whole wheel comes crashing down, with the gorilla and the boy trapped underneath. It looks like both have died for a few moments. The boy is safe first, but the intensity continues for 3-4 minutes as the audience (on screen and at home) waits to see if Joe will survive. Thankfully, he does - but it looks bad for him for quite some time. As an adult, I guess I enjoyed the movie, although I didn't think it was a 5-star experience. However, as a mother of a highly-sensitive, emotional child, I decided to write this review to warn other parents with similar children. It has irked me for quite a while that Commonsense Media (and, for that matter, the official ratings organisations throughout the world) rate films based on violence, sex, drinking/drugs and language, but they give no thought to the emotional content of these films or the affect that this may have on the developing minds of children. I strongly believe these organisations should definitely consider the emotional/psychological intensity when rating these films. At 7, many children still don't know the difference between real and imaginary. I don't believe that they would necessarily understand that what they're watching is for entertainment purposes - it is acting and special effects and the gorilla in the film is actually an animatronic robot. I also think this might be one of their first encounters with evil people like poachers, which could lead to some conversations that parents may not want to have yet, if they have animal-loving children. I would love to see CSM add another 'Bubble Box' with a rating for Emotion/Psychological Intensity (or something similar). I would also like to see them take this factor into account when determing their age recommendation for films and other media. Yes, steering young children away from violence, sex, drinking/drugs and language is important, but it is the emotions that films stir up in us that keep us entertained and engaged. For a child, if that emotion is too intense or causes nightmares, where's the value in that? I think I've gone on long enough now, but please, if you have sensitive children, reconsider your decision to show them this film at a young age!

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (8 ):
Kids say (7 ):

Animal lovers will be charmed by Joe, a giant but gentle gorilla. In an attempt to show how endangered some species really are, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG includes a couple of hard-hitting sequences, but it remains thrilling family fun. There are times when you just have to shake your head at Hollywood's desire to remake a classic. This is not one of those times. The 1949 RKO version of Mighty Joe Young is a tired monster film of the ape-runs-amuck variety that tried (unsuccessfully) to cash in on the popularity of King Kong. In contrast, this Disney version has plenty to offer a young audience. With a nod to the more adult Gorillas in the Mist, the movie centers on the daughter of a Dian Fossey-like primatologist. As Jill follows in her mom's footsteps, this environmentally-friendly story provides serious food for thought. It also provides plenty of comic relief.

Joe is more Curious George than King Kong. His favorite pastime is hide and seek, yet he doesn't seem to realize that at 15 feet tall, he is a bit too big to hide behind a bush. Joe is a feat of technical wizardry; he's so life-like that it's hard to believe he's a composite of animatronic and digital effects. Children will warm to him, especially since Joe is particularly sweet to kids. They will also enjoy Theron's and Paxton's engaging performances, and applaud (as an 8 year-old viewer did) when this couple inevitably gets together. If the climactic sequence is too intense for small children, it certainly ends happily. Mighty Joe Young turns out to be a heart-warming experience with an environmental message.

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