More often than not, Hollywood studios buy up foreign films for remakes only to throw out the very elements that made them so attractive in the first place. Disney, however, has been too smart to do that. It picked up “Un Indien dans la Ville,” one of France’s biggest box-office hits ever, dubbed it as painstakingly as possible and released it last year as “Little Indian, Big City.” Now Disney is opening its charming and funny remake, “Jungle 2 Jungle,” which fits Tim Allen like a glove while retaining everything that made the original such a delight.
Allen plays Michael Cromwell, a workaholic Wall Street commodities trader who makes a rush trip to the Amazonian jungle to complete his divorce from his long-estranged wife (a wryly amused JoBeth Williams), who left him after he installed a fifth phone line into their apartment, making her feel more a receptionist than a wife. What he could never anticipate was that he would be returning home with their 13-year-old son, Mimi-Siku (Sam Huntington), whom he never knew he had. The son speaks English but has been raised by his mother, a doctor, as an Amazonian native.
A most reluctant father, Michael hits Manhattan accompanied by a barefoot son in a loincloth, carrying a blow gun, a bow and arrow--and in a small wicker basket, his very large pet spider, Myteka. If Michael’s vapid fashion designer fiancee (Lolita Davidovich, lovely and rightly laughable) is somewhat less than thrilled at the unexpected prospect of becoming a stepmother to so unusual a teenager, she is flat-out aghast at Myteka.
Where the original French writers and their American adapters have been especially clever is in coming up with a lot of farcical plot and sight gags to provide hilarity and adventure to undercut the predictability of the inevitable flowering of a father-son relationship. Michael has unintentionally left his pal and partner Richard (Martin Short, a frantic comic joy) in the lurch over a business deal while off to the Amazon, and that has driven Richard to go to a dangerous Russian mobster (deliciously played by David Ogden Stiers).
Then there’s Mimi-Siku’s tumultuous weekend visit with Richard’s family, which includes Mimi in all innocence roasting Richard’s cherished aquarium fish, worth thousands of dollars. Much of the film’s humor derives from Mimi’s “wild child” behavior, which at once aggravates his self-absorbed father yet also has the effect of gradually liberating him. With so much going on, “Jungle 2 Jungle” creates plenty of opportunities for those serious moments that every traditional comedy must have if it is to work.
All these observations are indicative of what a terrific job of direction John Pasquin, who directed Allen so effectively in “The Santa Clause,” has done with richly varied material and a well-nigh perfect cast. Huntington is wonderful at conveying Mimi’s combination of naivete and intelligence, and Allen is a marvel. His amazing expressiveness and his physical grace recall the great silent clowns and bring to the film an extra level of visual and emotional impact. Beautifully designed and well-crafted, “Jungle 2 Jungle” is arguably the equal of the French original and perhaps even better, thanks to Tim Allen.
* MPAA rating: PG, for mild violence and language. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all ages.
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‘Jungle 2 Jungle’
Tim Allen: Michael Cromwell
Sam Huntington: Mimi-Siku
Martin Short: Richard
Lolita Davidovich: Charlotte
David Ogden Stiers: Jovanovich
JoBeth Williams: Dr. Patricia Cromwell
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney and TFI International presentation. Director John Pasquin. Producer Brian Reilly. Executive producers Richard Baker, Rick Messina, Brad Krevoy. Screenplay by Bruce A. Evans & Raymond Gideon; based on “Un Indien dans la Ville,” written by Herve Palud, Thierry Lhermitte, Igor Aptekman ad Philippe Bruneau de la Salle. Cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts. Editor Michael A. Stevenson. Costumes Carol Ramsey. Music Michael Convertino. Production designer Stuart Wurtzel. Art director Timothy Galvin. Set decorator Beth Rubino. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.