Mighty Joe Young (1998)

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So I asked my nine year old why he liked the new Mighty Joe Young better than the old one.  His answer? The Jill Young character, played in the update by Charlize Theron, didn’t annoy him by repeatedly screaming “Joe!  Joe!  Joe!” the way Terry Moore did in the original.  Okay, gotta give him that one.  There does tend to be a lot of overacting in old movies. Beyond that though–although I like them both–I gotta give the nod to the original, if for nothing else because it’s a little more complex and daring than the remake. It’s interesting how often that is the case. Newer movies may have a lot more license when it comes to nudity, profanity, and violence, but for the storytelling they’re much more likely to stick to the numbers.

The remake is a Disney film, and you can’t have a Disney film without a villain.  So, true to form, the Disney MJY gets one, complete with foreign accent, facial hair, and physical defect.  There isn’t really a villain in the original. O’Hara talks Jill into bringing Joe to Hollywood, and the three drunks provoke him, but such is the extent of their villainy. Compare that to the Strasser character who cold-heatedly murders not only Joe’s mother, but Jill’s. Of course we’re going to root for Joe and Jill after that. It’s an easy means of building sympathy they didn’t take in the original. They also took the easy road in the newer one by eliminating any ambiguity from the Jill Young character. Jill’s motivation in the remake is simply and purely to do what’s best for Joe. She never waivers. In the original, her concern for Joe doesn’t keep her from being complicit in exploiting him or deafen her ears to O’hara’s temptations of buying new clothes and seeing her name in lights. Whether or not such things make the original a better movie is debatable, but it’s certainly more complex.

One final point of comparison.  The new one’s gotta have better special effects, right? If by better we mean more realistic, then, yes, clearly it does. It’s far more realistic. But there’s a charm to the original Joe that’s hard to beat. Harryhausen’s work is fantastic, and through his magic we get to see Joe fight a posse of cowboys on horseback trying to rope him. How fun is that?


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