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Mighty Joe Young (1998)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that a poacher kills Joe's mom (a gorilla) and Jill's mom (a primate specialist) in the traumatic opening scene. Joe crushes a bystander's leg and kills his attacker by throwing him against some power lines. In the climactic sequence, a child is barely rescued from a burning Ferris wheel. The movie addresses the subjects of endangered animals and poaching.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Jill Young (Charlize Theron) makes a promise to her dying mom: she will protect Joe, an infant gorilla. This turns out to be a tricky promise to keep when Joe grows to astounding proportions, making him the target of wildlife poachers everywhere. When zoologist Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton) offers Joe sanctuary at a Los Angeles preserve, Jill packs up her 2000 pound gorilla and heads for Hollywood. Just as she and Joe are warming up to life in California, trouble hits. The poacher who orphaned them both 12 years earlier comes back to finish the job. Joe escapes through downtown Los Angeles and faces off with the evil Strasser at an amusement park.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether this film, which is a remake of a 1949 monster movie, is also a monster flick. Is Joe a monster? Or is he simply ill-treated and misunderstood? Are there other so-called movie monsters that might fall into that category? What about Frankenstein? What message, if any, do you think the movie makers were trying to get across? Do monster movies often have messages?
- In theaters: December 25, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: March 23, 1999
- Cast: Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, Regina King
- Director: Ron Underwood
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some menacing action violence and mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.