'George of the Jungle' Will Swing Once Again

The naive, Tarzan-like bumbler, known to many adults by the 1967 cartoon and its catchy theme song, returns in a new version on the Cartoon Network on Friday (9 ET/PT).

The new cartoon makes George a teenager instead of an adult, as he was in the original created by Jay Ward. His old friends -- Ape the Ape; his pet dog, Shep; and gal pal Ursula -- return, joined by some new characters.

Although this George is aimed at a younger audience, kids 6 to 11, he shares most of his predecessor's traits, says Tiffany Ward, daughter of the late animator.

"He still lucks into things. He still smashes into trees," she says.

Ward's offbeat characters, which also included Rocky and Bullwinkle, Peabody and Sherman and Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, may appeal both to parents who grew up with the original and to children who have seen the 1997 movie starring Brendan Fraser. (That film precedes the George episode Friday at 7 ET/PT.)

"Moms and dads know it. Kids grew up watching the film. They can all hum the theme song. And the humor is timeless," says Amanda Cortese of Classic Media, which made the show with Ward Productions under the label Bullwinkle Studios.

"What we're seeing in entertainment is a lot of co-viewing," Cartoon Network's Rico Hill says. "Kids are sitting down and enjoying TV with their parents."

In recasting George for a younger audience, there will be fewer of the Ward insider puns and jokes that attracted adults to his earlier cartoons. "Ward produced a whole string of shows based around humor more than the drawing style. They were aimed more at adults," animation historian Jerry Beck says.

Ward, who died in 1989, still has many fans, including The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who named his central character Homer Jay Simpson in tribute.

New George characters include Ursula's father, Dr. Towel Scott, and a witch doctor and his daughter, Magnolia. They all live in a fictional jungle, Mbebwe. New performers play the theme. ("George, George, George of the Jungle -- watch out for that tree … !")

The addition of Magnolia gives Ursula a friend and also may be a way to attract girls to a cartoon that tilts toward boys, Hill says.

George, an acquisition that has been broadcast in Canada, is a good fit for the Cartoon Network audience, Hill says. Although it has more girl appeal, he would have liked a little more diversity in the characters.

For some unexplained reason, Magnolia has a Southern accent. "That's the way of Jay Ward," Tiffany Ward says.

The new George has 26 episodes, each containing two cartoons. Only 17 episodes of the original were broadcast. Those, along with an unaired earlier pilot, will be available on DVD Feb. 12.

George isn't the only Ward update in production. Peabody and his pet boy, Sherman, are the subject of a DreamWorks film scheduled for 2010, Tiffany Ward says.

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