Mighty Joe Young

1998 Release
Stars: Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, David Paymer


This is a lovely remake of the 1949 classic about a girl and her beloved gorilla who meet with more dangers in the city than they ever had to face in the wild jungles of Africa. This one stars Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron and David Paymer.

The gorilla and the girl have one very important thing in common: twelve years earlier, both their mothers were killed by poachers. The girl made a promise to her dying mother to always care for “Joe”, the scrappy little beast who managed to bite off the fingers of the master poacher who perpetrated the crime against his band. The girl’s mother was a zoologist and environmentalist who studied and protected the gorillas and now the girl (“Jill Young” played by Charlize Theron) is following in her mother’s footsteps. Just as Jill Young grew, so did Joe Young, only in his case, he became a giant 2,000-pounder (explained as a genetic oddity that occurs every few years).

Paxton plays zoologist Greg, who shows up to study gorillas in the area. He stupidly hires a bunch of poachers as trackers to help find the apes. They find at least one: Joe, whose mega-size scares the poacher-trackers off but not before they realize the enormity of their find (Joe means money). Jill has to save Greg from a really ticked off Joe and now we have our budding romance. No, not Greg and Joe….Greg and Jill. Joe already loves Jill. You can tell by the way they play hide & seek together (a 15-foot gorilla trying to hide behind a leaf can be quite endearing) or the way she sings African lullabies to Joe at night. Very sweet.

I loved the original and I’m very happy to say that this remake was successful in keeping in the charm despite updating the story to the ’90’s. Joe is a real cutie and I want one.

Now that the poachers know Joe’s whereabouts, Jill is warned that they will soon come gunning for him so she takes Greg up on his offer of placing Joe in a California conservancy. We never see how they manage to get Joe out of Africa and into a truck traveling the hairy California freeway, but I suspect they bought him a first class seat on Air Africa.

Joe becomes a media darling until the master poacher comes looking for him: going to sell him off in tiny little bits and pieces as penance for biting off the man’s fingers. Oh no! Poor Joe. Will Jill and Greg save Joe? Will Greg and Jill become an item?

Lotta says nice flick. Go see it. The kids should love it. And remember, whenever you see a poacher, shoot him first.