Mighty Joe Young (1998 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mighty Joe Young
Mighty joe young98.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ron Underwood
Produced by Ted Hartley
Tom Jacobson
Screenplay by Mark Rosenthal
Lawrence Konner
Based on Mighty Joe Young
by Merian C. Cooper
Ruth Rose
Starring Bill Paxton
Charlize Theron
Rade Serbedzija
Peter Firth
Regina King
David Paymer
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Donald Peterman
Oliver Wood
Edited by Paul Hirsch
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 1998 (1998-12-25)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $50.6 million (US)[1]

Mighty Joe Young is a 1998 American adventure film based on the 1949 film of the same name and directed by Ron Underwood. It stars Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron, and in the film's version, the ape is much larger than in the original. The movie grossed $50,632,037 in the United States with a production budget of $90 million.


Jill Young, as a child, witnesses the death of her mother, Ruth Young and the mother of Joe, an infant mountain gorilla, at the hands of poachers led by Andrei Strasser. Strasser loses his right thumb and trigger finger to Joe, and swears revenge.

Twelve years later, Jill has raised Joe, now grown to a height of 16 12 feet (5 m) weighting 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg). As a result, other gorillas won't accept him and both are now living in relative peace until a wildlife refuge director, Gregg O'Hara, convinces Jill they would be safer from poachers if they relocate to the United States.

The trio goes to Los Angeles, and win the hearts of the refuge staff at the conservancy, who put Jill in charge of Joe. Jill is approached by Strasser, now running a fraudulent Animal Preserve in Botswana, while actually selling animal organs on the black market. He saw a news report about Joe and is eager for revenge. At first Jill does not recognize Strasser, since Strasser's right hand is hidden in his coat pocket. He tries to convince Jill that Joe would be better off in his wildlife refuge back in Africa. During a gala, Strasser's henchman, Garth, uses a poacher's noisemaker to scare Joe into a frenzy. Joe in a fit of rage trashes the gala, with the intention of attacking Strasser. Joe is captured and placed in a concrete bunker. Before their departure, Gregg has fallen in love with Jill and kisses her goodbye.

When Jill learns that Joe may be euthanized, she takes Strasser's offer. She and the refuge staff smuggle Joe out in a truck. On the way to the airport, Jill notices the half-glove covering Strasser's missing fingers, and realizes who he is. She fights Strasser and Garth, then jumps from the truck onto Hollywood Boulevard, leading to several automobile accidents. Joe sees her and rocks the truck over onto its side and escapes.

Gregg realized that Strasser is a poacher and goes after Jill and Joe. He finds Jill, who reveals to Gregg that Strasser killed her mother and now plans to kill Joe. They locate Joe at a carnival where he is playfully wreaking havoc. Strasser arrives and attempts to shoot Jill, but Garth pushes Strasser's gun away from Jill and causes him to fire at a spotlight, starting a fire and causing the Ferris wheel to break down. Realizing how ruthless Strasser truly is, Garth quits, but Strasser knocks Garth unconscious with his gun. Strasser confronts Jill and attempts to kill her, but Joe sneaks up behind them and tosses Strasser into the air, where he grips onto electrical wires over a transformer. Short two fingers on the hand holding the wire, Strasser is killed when he loses his grip and he falls into the transformer.

Later, at the Santa Monica Pier, Joe tries to save a child from atop the burning wheel, but the fire burns it down and Joe and the child fall to the ground, where Joe jumps off of the burning wheel, protecting the boy and knocking himself unconscious. Joe survives the fall and awakens and they mention that they need to raise money to open a preserve for him. The young boy Joe saved donates some change to Jill after hearing this, prompting the rest of the crowd to contribute.

Joe is returned to Uganda where Jill and Gregg open the "Joe Young Preserve." Joe runs off into the jungle, enjoying his freedom.



A model of the trailer used in a scene from the film. The model is now used in an attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Cinematographer Donald Peterman suffered head injuries, a broken leg and broken ribs due to a crane accident on the film set in 1997.[2] A cameraman was also injured in the accident, which plummeted Peterman's camera platform 18 feet (5.5 m) to the ground when the crane snapped.[2]

For the majority of the film, Joe was portrayed by creature suit performer John Alexander who wore a radio-controlled animatronic gorilla mask and full body suit created by special makeup effects artist Rick Baker and his crew at Cinovation Studios. In order to achieve those scenes, Alexander would often act on miniature sets that were surrounded by blue screen in which visual effects house DreamQuest Images would composite him into footage that was shot before. While in the beginning of the film when Joe was an infant he was performed by Verne Troyer. For certain scenes, the filmmakers used three full-sized animatronics (one in quadruped, one sitting down, and one in a dead position) also created by Baker's crew. For the scenes where the digital Joe was used, visual effects houses DreamQuest Images and Industrial, Light, & Magic would work on different scenes using the same model provided by Baker. Many of these performances were achieved by key-frame animation, but when the digital Joe was running and jumping was motion capture data that they captured from an infant chimpanzee.


The music for the film was composed and conducted by James Horner. The soundtrack was released in December 1998.

Mighty Joe Young: Original Score
Film score by James Horner
Released December 8, 1998
Recorded 1998
Length 73:01
Label Hollywood
James Horner chronology
Back to Titanic Mighty Joe Young Bicentennial Man
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
SoundtrackNet 2.5/5 stars


The film grossed $50,632,037 against a production budget of $90 million, thus becoming a box office bomb, due to competition with The Prince of Egypt, The Rugrats Movie, Babe: Pig in the City, A Bug's Life, and Patch Adams.[1]

The films holds a rating of 52% from Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews. The site's critical consensus is: "Beguiling effects transcend a predictable plot." [3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4, saying, "Mighty Joe Young is an energetic, robust adventure tale: not too cynical, violent or fragmented for kids, not too tame for adults. After all the calculation behind "Godzilla" or "Armageddon," it has a kind of innocence. It's not about a monster but about a very big, well-meaning gorilla that just wants to be left in peace." Despite giving the film positive reviews, he also pointed out that the romance scenes and villains were only average and by no means exceptional.[4] Common Sense Media gave the film 4 stars and said, "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. This Disney version has plenty more to offer a young audience. 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 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."[5] Reelviews Movie Reviews gave the film 3 stars out of 4, and generally positive reviews: "Although Joe's size makes him a monster, his disposition makes him cuddly. Despite not being daring in style or story, Mighty Joe Young is nevertheless a charming and enjoyable adventure, and a rare remake that's better than the original. It may not have the box office punch to exceed the $100 million mark, but it's good enough to entertain an audience."[6] Colin Fraser of eFilm Critic gave it 3 stars, saying, "Strictly for ten-year-olds, Mighty Joe Young has its ample heart in exactly the right place. After an opening sequence that will have kiddies reaching for Kleenex, the action soon picks up with many a thrill on the way. This is not Jurassic Park however and doesn't really deserve its Academy nomination for effects."[7]

Among those who criticized the film included Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide, who gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and said, "This is technology-driven spectacle: It's too shallow to really work for adults, but so slow and relentlessly serious that kids are bound to get restless. Joe himself is an amazing creation, less personable, to be sure, than the original lovelorn King Kong, but a far more fully realized character than any of the flesh and blood humans by whom he's surrounded."[8] Paul Clinton of CNN gave it negative reviews, saying, "Great scenery, cartoonish villains, huges leaps of suspended belief, and mouthwatering shots of Charlize Theron are in plentiful supply in "Mighty Joe Young." And baby, can this boy travel. He goes from Africa to L.A. in just one dissolve. Then when he escapes he goes from Hollywood Boulevard, to the Los Angeles river, to the Pacific Palisades in seconds. If you're not familiar with L.A ... trust me ... couldn't happen." and "The gorilla is pretty impressive and expressive, but overall it's much ado about -- not much. I have a feeling this film will be fairly low on the food chain of "must see" holiday films."[9] Stephen Holden of The New York Times gave the film generally unfavorable reviews, saying, "Mighty Joe Young, directed by Ron Underwood from a screenplay by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, is saddled with dialogue so wooden that Mr. Paxton and Ms. Theron almost seem animatronic themselves. Little children won't notice. In Joe, they can identify with the biggest, cuddliest simian toy a 6-year-old could ever hope to own."[10] Dustin Putman gave it 2 stars out of 4 and negative reviews, saying, "Mighty Joe Young is an agreeable time-waster for older kids (it's much too violent for the youngest viewers) and perhaps some adults, but in a season when children could also choose to see the marvelous "The Prince of Egypt," and adults could pick any number of far superior films, "Mighty Joe Young" simply pales in comparison. Although you could certainly do much worse, there is only one really distinctive quality about the film, and that is Charlize Theron's charismatic performance."[11]

Mighty Joe Young also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, losing to What Dreams May Come.


  1. ^ a b c "Mighty Joe Young". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 28, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Perry Moore, 'Narnia' series executive producer, dies at 39; Don Peterman, Oscar-nominated cinematographer, dies at 79; Nancy Carr, network TV publicist, dies at 50". Los Angeles Times. 2011-02-22. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  3. ^ Rotten Tomatoes reviews
  4. ^ "Mighty Joe Young Review (1998)". Roger Ebert.com. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Mighty Joe Young (1998) Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved October 1, 2005. 
  6. ^ "Mighty Joe Young Movie Review". Reelviews. 
  7. ^ "Mighty Joe Young (1998)". eFilm Critic. 
  8. ^ "Mighty Joe Young Review". TV Guide. 
  9. ^ "Review: Monkeying around with 'Mighty Joe Young'". CNN. Retrieved 25 December 1998.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. ^ "Movie Review Mighty Joe Young (1998)". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Mighty Joe Young (1998)". Dustin Putman. 

External links[edit]