Let's be honest: this Tarzan spoof, based on the '60s cartoon of the same name, and starring the bloke who was in California Man (along with an ape called Ape), doesn't sound like the hot ticket for the festive season. But these strange ingredients are exactly why George Of The Jungle is such a pleasant surprise.
The film's animated opening titles quickly dispense with the background story - the plane crash, boy grows up wearing a loincloth (or "butt flap") - before introducing George's gimmick of always smacking into a tree during his daily vine swinging. Having the hero regularly slam into stationary objects was a big feature of the original cartoon, as was the tongue-in-cheek narration. Both are nostalgically recycled in live-action mode here, as part of a script that pelts the cynical viewer with a non-stop hail of gags, laughs and slapstick humour. Try as you might, you can't help chuckling.
It helps enormously that George (Brendan Fraser) makes an attractively gormless hero, and his heiress heroine (Mann) matches him gamely in the looks and brain cell stakes. But it's the animals, the jokes and the stunts that steal the show. There's an elephant called Shep, who boasts all the characteristics of a dog (it could probably lick its own balls, but this is a kids' film). A toucan called Tookie-Tookie acts as a messenger, summoning George to help out with jungle unrest, such as simian bullies picking on a smaller monkey. Then there's the ape named Ape, voiced with scene-stealing wit by John Cleese. And for once, the fact that half the animals are the product of animatronics and CGI doesn't jar.
The stunts are surprisingly daring (one breathtaking rescue sequence takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge), and the jokes (even those involving farts) will have you rocking in your seat with laughter. Occasionally, the pace slows but never for long. There's always another big, blundery gag that comes along and treads squarely on your funny bone.
It's all great family entertainment. The kids at the Total Film screening were dancing inthe aisles to the catchy theme tune (by The Presidents Of The USA, no less), and even the adults enjoyed themselves (even if they were trying to hide it). If you need an excuse, borrow someone's sprogs for the afternoon and push them into a cinema. You won't regret it.