For a show that only lasted 17 episodes, George of the Jungle has had a surprisingly enduring legacy about it. The show was basically conceived as a Tarzan parody and was the spiritual successor to The Rocky and Bullwinkle show given that it was produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott. The show premiered in 1967 and was arranged like The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in that a George cartoon was paired up with others, in this case Tom Slick and Super Chicken. The most memorable aspects of the show were likely the theme song and the fact that George was inept when it came to vine-swinging, thus why that catchy theme includes the line, “Watch out for that tree!”
The show made enough of a cultural impact that it continued to be aired in syndicated packages into the 1990s when cable was exploding and the need to fill programming hours helped bring shows like George of the Jungle back from the dead. I remember seeing it mostly on week day mornings on Cartoon Network, usually when I was home sick from school or during school vacations. I would often stay for the theme song, and then check out. I remember the first time I tried to give it a shot I made it to the opening line from the narrator in which he mentioned George was enjoying an air-conditioned tree. For some reason, this was just too preposterous for me and I changed the channel. Eventually I came back to it as during the summer months I often turned on Cartoon Network when I woke up and just left it on all day. I watched a lot of crap during those years and, to be honest, I don’t know if George of the Jungle was part of that crap or not. I have no strong memories of the show, be they positive or negative. The premise of the show seems fine, so maybe it was charming, but I don’t know.
That show is merely how the world was introduced to the character of George of the Jungle, but he didn’t stop there. A live-action movie premiered in 1997 starring Brendan Fraser in the lead role. He was joined by the always effervescent Leslie Mann in the role of Ursula, and I honestly have no memory of the film despite seeing it. I think I thought it was fine, but it obviously could not have been that great for me to have no real recollection of it. That was it for awhile though as George went back into obscurity. Then, for seemingly unknown reasons, the show was revived in 2007 by Classic Media for the Teletoon channel in Canada and Cartoon Network in the US. It ran for 26 episodes with each one containing two segments. It received what is considered a second season, but that came in 2016 and was more like a soft reboot of the show as a lot of the characters were changed-up and even redesigned. That second season also ran for 26 episodes ending its run in February of 2017. I guess we should expect a third season sometime in 2025.
The Christmas episode “Jungle Bells” was part of that first season. In it, the character Ursula (Britt Irvin) tries to teach her jungle friends about Christmas. It’s a fairly straight-forward plot about a Christmas-educated individual trying to bring the holiday to some place foreign. There will be trials along the way and the goal is for everyone to understand the true meaning of Christmas by the time the episode ends. Since this is a comedy series though, perhaps we can expect a twist or something along the way or maybe even an unexpected conclusion. I’ve never watched this show before today so anything is on the table in my mind.
The episode begins with the characters seemingly getting a lesson on astronomy and jungle life from Dr. Towel Scott (Mark Oliver). It seems to be going over the heads of everyone and boring them as well giving the Witch Doctor (Brian Drummond) an opening to educate them on the Season of the Great Baboon. That apparently refers to a time of year when everyone takes back all of the stuff they’ve given away before retreating to hide in a cave and subsist on leaves. Ursula then notices that Christmas is coming given the orientation of the stars in the sky. George (Lee Tockar), Ape (a literal ape voiced by Paul Dobson), and Magnolia (a jungle girl with an American southern accent voiced by Tabitha St. Germain) have no idea what she is talking about. After she gives them a brief rundown of the holiday Magnolia notes it sounds better than the great baboon, and yes it does.
The next day, George and Ape are playing catch (they’re using a poor little bird as the ball and large leaves as mitts) while Ursula goes on and on about how great Christmas is. She describes how it would snow at Christmas time and she would go snowboarding causing George to remark how wonderful it must be to go around trees instead of crashing into them. She continues by talking up the lights and the food, but this only further confuses the others since they don’t know what trimmings or a pine tree are. Ursula runs off to find her father, Dr. Scott, who is out catching insects for his studies. She asks him what they’re doing for Christmas, only to find out that since they’re going to be in the jungle he was planning on skipping it. This does not go over well with Ursula.
Ursula then gathers everyone and commands them like a drill sergeant. She informs them they will indeed have the best Christmas ever and produces a plan on how to do that. She assigns everyone a task: George is on tree duty, Magnolia is to create “whimsical winter outfits,” Ape is in charge of caroling, and some elephant named Shep is expected to handle the lights. Ursula wants all white lights, no multi-color strands, which means she’s after my heart (though I do like the white and blue strands as well as the white and red).
We then cut to that night and everything is setup for a Christmas celebration. It looks pretty good, all things considered. There’s a big tree and everything seems relatively festive. Things quickly go off the rails though. As Ursula boasts how wonderful everything looks, she’s holding onto some kind of garland that is apparently made out of eggs which begin hatching giving birth to weird jungle spiders. George presents her with some eggnog and has it spat all over him as it was apparently made out of spoiled crocodile eggs. Shep shows up with some lights, so apparently not all is lost. He sucks them up in his trunk and then spits them all over the place. It’s then Ursula realizes they’re in the jungle and do not have access to an electrical outlet. She’s about to crack, but then remembers the carols. Everyone then gathers to sing Christmas carols, but it’s awful and offkey. I’m not even sure they’re all singing the same song. The noise causes a stampede putting a merciful end to this horrid celebration as Ape admits they didn’t do any rehearsals. Ursula takes the failure rather hard and announces through sniffles that she’s going home to bed. Magnolia then vows they need to make this right.
George, Ape, and Magnolia pay a visit to Dr. Scott for assistance on how to save Christmas. It’s via him they learn about Santa Claus giving George the idea to track down Santa and force him to make Ursula’s Christmas awesome. They quickly set off and a narrator (Michael Daingerfield) takes over the story-telling. George and his friends first end up at the South Pole where a penguin apparently directs them north. They make a stop at a police lineup full of non-Santa holiday mascots before arriving at the North Pole. There an elf gives them the run-around and then, laughing rather maniacally, is shown heading into Santa’s workshop. The montage ends with George, Ape, and Magnolia atop a tree searching around in the jungle. Ape questions how a big, red, dude could be so hard to find and George agrees. He also declares he needs a nap and immediately goes to sleep. Ape and Magnolia decide to join him and as the trio sleep they slide into the canopy of leaves and down the limbs of the tree getting tangled in some vines.
The three wake up to find themselves suspended upside down. George panics momentarily, but then an image fills his sight. It’s a large, red, creature with a white beard! George immediately mistakes him for Santa Claus, but it appears to be the great baboon the Witch Doctor described earlier. He helps them down, and is then confused when George jumps onto his lap with a list of demands, number one being that Ursula needs a chimney so Santa can visit her. The baboon appears agreeable, but then asks them what they’re talking about with a crazy-sounding “Ho ho!” George groans, realizing he’ll just have to do this himself.
And that’s what George should have done from the start as he quickly assembles a rather nice looking chimney in seconds later that evening, though he does get stuck in it. They then turn their attention to creating a sleigh as they’re apparently going to play Santa. Ape loads it up with toys, while George gets poison ivy for some reason. They’re then shown trying to make the sleigh fly with a team full of bats lazily depicted mostly as a cloud. It’s not working and George thinks they need a leader. He turns to Tookie, the little pink bird who was serving as their ball earlier, and plants a red nose on him. Tookie takes one look at the bats with antlers shoved into their heads and seems scared, but he bravely flies to the head of the team. Apparently there was some Christmas magic in that bird as the sleigh soon takes flight.
While flying above the jungle, Ape tells George to release the presents and he does so. All at once. The sack lands in a volcano which causes it to spew ash into the air. It rains down like snow on the jungle and the Witch Doctor can be seen making ash angels while Shep samples the flavor. Ursula is then shown asleep in her bed with a single tear dangling from one eye. George and Ape drop in with the chimney and get to work making the place look nice. And they succeed! The place looks like a Hallmark card, the only thing missing is a stocking over the fireplace. George nails one to the mantle, but it causes the entire chimney to crack and then crumble ruining the house.
Ursula and her dad are roused from their sleep by the noise and find George and Ape amongst the rubble. They somewhat coyly say someone ruined her house, and her Christmas, but are then confused to see her smiling. She runs outside into the falling “snow” and remarks how it looks just like Christmas back home. She all but thanks George for going through all of the trouble to make this happen when Magnolia comes barreling into the screen by tackling George. She thanks him profusely for decorating her hut, then remarks his looks even better. George and Ape are confused, so they head over to check it out.
George’s hut looks rather amazing as it’s all decorated for Christmas. Magnolia assumes Santa did it, and George is confused why he would decorate his hut too. Ursula basically gives him a response of because it’s Christmas, and George doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t understand, but he likes it so requests to do it again next year. Magnolia then beckons them to the window where they look and see a shadow against the moon. It scratches itself, and they assume it must be Santa and wish him a Merry Christmas. The figure returns the gesture, and becomes well lit revealing it’s actually the baboon. It’s he who ends the episode with a, “And to all a good night!”
And that’s it, a pretty straight-forward take on the plot of Christmas coming to a location it was previously foreign. You have the frustrated character who can’t seem to convey the holiday’s message to the newcomers and the newcomers sort of stumbling into a way to make it happen with a dash of Christmas magic tossed in for good measure. There’s no message in the end though, a part from maybe the old adage “It’s the thought that counts,” as we don’t really learn anything about Christmas. It has a bit of a twist in the ending with the baboon being mistaken for Santa, but it doesn’t really add anything. I guess it’s a little funny, but in the end did it matter that it wasn’t Santa? We basically just found out Santa doesn’t really care about the denizens of the jungle and that apparently the Witch Doctor has been honoring this baboon guy in the wrong manner.
George of the Jungle is not an impressive looking show. It’s flash-animated, and being from 2007, means it looks rather “puppetty.” The characters are simple models that are animated in a fairly simple manner. Only what needs to be animated is repositioned while the rest of the image remains static. It’s not particularly fluid. The designs of the characters have a slight resemblance to the 1967 show, though Ursula looks particularly modern in her attire and George is actually quite skinny. Shep and Dr. Scott in particular remind me of the old show, but what’s lacking is the background and general art design. There’s nothing memorable as it’s just a fairly typical jungle setting. The voice acting is pretty good, though I’m not crazy about the voice given to George. Sometimes I get the impression he’s supposed to sound really stupid, but it’s almost noncommittal. Is he dumb? Ignorant? I don’t know.
The show is also short on laughs. Ape has a deadpan delivery to a lot of his lines that works and I did enjoy the joke of George pining for a scenario in which he avoids trees, but aside from that little made me laugh. They confused the South Pole with the North Pole, which is a joke that’s been done many times. I guess I like that Santa was shown to exist, but the elves are just secretive about it. Ursula going mad early on is supposed to be funny, but it’s again too conventional. George getting eggnog regurgitated onto him was definitely the grossest moment of the show and it was a bit humorous to see it go on and on, but that also made it feel too much like a Family Guy gag.
At least we learned that Christmas can indeed come to the jungle. And if you want to experience it for yourself it’s very easy as the whole show is free to stream on YouTube. I mean, I don’t recommend you actually do it as it’s apparently free for a reason, but if you liked the old show and always wanted to see George interact with Christmas well now’s your chance.
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