Mighty Joe Young is a 1998 American adventure film based on the 1949 film of the same name. It was directed by Ron Underwood and stars Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron. In the newer film's version, the ape is much larger than in the original. The film grossed $50.6 million in the United States against a production budget of $90 million.
During a gala, Strasser's henchman, Garth, uses a poacher's noisemaker to scare Joe into a frenzy. Joe trashes the gala, with the intention of attacking Strasser, but is captured, and imprisoned in a concrete bunker.
When Jill discovers that Joe may be euthanized, she accepts Strasser's offer. She and the refuge staff smuggle Joe out in a truck. Before their departure, Gregg has fallen in love with Jill and kisses her goodbye. On the way to the airport, Jill notices the half-glove covering Strasser's missing fingers and recognizes him. She fights Strasser and Garth, then jumps from the truck onto Hollywood Boulevard, leading to several automobile accidents. Joe sees her and tilts the truck over onto its side and flees.
Gregg discovers 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 track Joe to a carnival where he is playfully wreaking havoc. Strasser arrives as well and attempts to shoot Jill, but Garth, appalled at Strasser's ruthlessness, turns against him and saves Jill, causing Strasser to misfire at a spotlight, starting a fire and causing the Ferris wheel to break down. After knocking Garth unconscious, Strasser attempts to kill Jill in person, but Joe sneaks up behind them and throws Strasser onto a power line over a transformer. Short two fingers on the hand holding the wire, Strasser loses his grip and falls onto the transformer, where he is electrocuted to death.
Later, at the Santa Monica Pier, Joe attempts 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 Jill mentions that they need to raise money to open a preserve for him. The young boy named Jason 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." Finally free, Joe runs off into the jungle.
Cinematographer Donald Peterman suffered head injuries, a broken leg and broken ribs in a crane accident on the film set in 1997. His camera platform plummeted 18 feet (5.5 m) to the ground when the crane snapped. A cameraman was also injured in the accident.
In most 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. To achieve those scenes, Alexander often acted on miniature sets surrounded by blue screen; visual-effects house DreamQuest Images then composited him into footage shot earlier. Joe as an infant 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 digital Joe, visual-effects houses DreamQuest Images and Industrial Light & Magic worked on different scenes, using the same model provided by Baker. Many of these performances were achieved by key-frame animation, but to portray the digital Joe running and jumping, motion-capture data from an infant chimpanzee were used.
The film grossed $50.6 million against a production budget of $90 million. and holds a rating of 52% from Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews. The site's critical consensus is: "Beguiling effects transcend a predictable plot."
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. 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." 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." 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."
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." 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." 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." 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."
Mighty Joe Young also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, losing to What Dreams May Come.