American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"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. And about a woman who treasures the gorilla. And about a zoologist who loves the woman. All that stuff.
Charlize Theron plays Jill Young, a woman whose mother is a famed gorilla expert of the "Gorillas in the Mist" variety. Jill is raised with Joe, who even as a baby is big for his size. They grow up together, and Joe just keeps on growing, until you can tell he's approaching because the treetops shake.
Bill Paxton, from "Twister," stars as Gregg O'Hara, a zoologist who wants samples of Joe's blood. Alas, the snaky types he hires as assistants are crooked and try to sell information about the gorilla to a sleazy promoter named Strasser (Rade Sherbedgia). This same Strasser is a poacher with a history with Joe, who once bit off his thumb and forefinger.
The African scenes are remarkable in the way they create a convincing giant gorilla and place him in the wild. The majority of the shots of Joe in this movie are special effects; we are rarely looking at a real gorilla. You can't tell that by anything on the screen--apart from Joe's size, of course. Joe isn't simply seen as he lumbers past. The camera is free to circle and approach him. In a sequence where he's being pursued by men in Land Rovers, the camera parallels him, then swings in front of him, then moves in for a closeup. It's a remarkable demonstration of technical skill.