While the nonstop cavalcade of remakes coming from Hollywood can easily draw our ire, it’s important to remember that a remake is not always necessarily a bad thing. Case in point: that time when Tremors-director Ron Underwood remade Mighty Joe Young. It’s exactly the way a remake should be done: it maintains the basic beats of the original while not using it as a crutch, updating the tone, pacing, and visual effects for a new era of filmmaking to become a new work, rather than a replacement for the original (plus, the Easter eggs for fans of the original are just that, rather than the in-your-face overt nods we sometimes get in remakes). There are several changes, though, the most prominent being the jettisoning of the entertainment mogul/nightclub angle in favor of a more wildlife-conservation-based one, and the inclusion of proper villains in the form of poachers that murdered Joe’s mother and Jill’s on the same night (it’s implied that the custody of the child Jill then passed to one of her mom’s colleagues, allowing her to still grow up in the jungle). Also, we don’t get to see Joe fight any lions.
Production values are pretty much perfect, with Rick Baker’s effects knocking it out of the park for one of the final animatronic/suitmation giant monsters to come from a major Hollywood studio. James Horner’s score is also fantastic, the lead actors are charming (as opposed to the often-obnoxious comic relief in a certain other Hollywood kaiju movie from 1998), and the script is solid, throwing the occasional curveball rather than going for the most obvious beat. So, it’s a darn shame that much like the original movie, it tanked at the box office.
I will acknowledge that there are some troubling aspects presented by the remake:
- A dying mother demanding that her 5-year-old daughter to continue her life’s work is something one would expect from a Kazuo Koike exploitation piece.
- Jill (Charlize Theron) appears to be about half Gregg (Bill Paxton)’s age, so some of their dates look like a father-daughter outing. (This happens in Hollywood a lot, though.)
- They knock a guard out in one scene with a tranquilizer dart intended for Joe. Until proven otherwise, I’m gonna assume the guy died.
- The climax revolves around Joe saving a child that he himself imperiled.
That said, these are more quibbles than show-stoppers, and the picture is quite fantastic overall. Check it out, and don’t let the Disney brand name scare you away; after all, very few Disney flicks feature the title character biting off someone’s fingers in the first ten minutes!