**/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Christopher Showerman, Thomas Haden Church, Julie Benz, Christina Pickles
screenplay by Jordan Moffet
directed by David Grossman
by Bill Chambers
"Me new George. Studio too cheap to hire Brendan Fraser."
George's recasting is noted--several times, in fact--by Showerman as well as by the film's omniscient narrator (Ward staple Keith Scott), though wife Ursula's is not (once played by Leslie Mann, she's now embodied by Brittany Daniel look-alike Julie Benz), nor is that of Mrs. Stanhope, Ursula's mother, who used to be the cosmopolitan Holland Taylor but is now the appropriately acidic Christina Pickles. George and Ursula are living the good life with their firstborn son (George Jr. (Angus T. Jones), natch) in an African jungle that looked more realistic in cel form (the sets are straight out of Sherwood Schwartz-ville) until Mrs. Stanhope apparently resurfaces to drag Ursula and George Jr. back to civilization (a.k.a. Las Vegas), where Lyle Van de Groot (the unpleasant Thomas Haden Church, who's seemingly always someone named Lyle) brainwashes Ursula into being his missus and giving up George's deed to the jungle while placing George's simian brother, An Ape Named Ape (voice of John Cleese, strictly putting food on his family's table), under casino arrest by signing him to a seventeen-year performing contract with no escape clause.
If the film weren't so pockmarked with scatology (i.e., "the fart crutch") and hostility, it might actually be a somewhat accomplished tribute to Ward's capricious style, a clash of Vaudeville and absurdist humour marked by an economic technique. Television director David Grossman almost gets the latter right (though the picture is lit in such a way as to suggest frugality rather than homage), and writer Jordan Moffet definitely approximates Ward's wit through self-referential asides and a whimsy that approaches stream-of-consciousness. (Worthy of Ward is a running gag about a lion campaigning for King with "Meatless Tuesdays" as his platform.) Why, though, must there be a scene in which a black man dutifully splays out so that a rich white woman may cross a creek without getting her shoes wet? (The Song of the South is comparatively sensitive, and yet Disney suppresses it.) Why is George Jr.'s abduction treated so inconsequentially? Why is every opportunity for corporate synergy seized with abandon? The film concludes with George "vine-surfing" à la the 2-D Tarzan, features George Jr. reading the Tarzan storybook in a room filled with Disney toys, and conveniently apes the "Circle of Life" tableau within weeks of The Lion King's DVD release; is this Jay Ward's "George of the Jungle", or Leni Riefenstahl's?
George of the Jungle 2 is handsomely presented on disc in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot in 35mm and probably bypassed the internegative stage for DVD; colours are the eye-popping highlight of this transfer. Audio comes in two nearly identical 5.1 flavours: Dolby Digital and DTS. Give DTS the edge for having more swollen bass during the elephant and "caterpillar" (as in the bulldozer) stampedes. Extras include: the weird "Behind the Trees" featurette (9 mins.), with duelling narrators arguing over the necessity of explaining greenscreen and then winding up banished to the parking lot of an Australian soundstage, though not before delivering an overview of the sophisticated animatronics built into the monkey suits for the film; seven deleted scenes (one that was also scripted and shot for and cut out of the first George of the Jungle!), over which uncredited participants provide optional commentary; a 35s outtakes reel ("Jungle Bungles"); a set-top "Vine Surfing Game"; and trailers for Brother Bear, Finding Nemo, The Santa Clause 2, Freaky Friday, and The Lion King 1.5. Originally published: October 27, 2003.