There's this great little moment about five minutes in to "George of the Jungle 2." It's when the audience finally gets its first good up-close look at the guy playing George ... and they suddenly realizes that it's not Brendan Fraser, the actor who played the clumsy jungle king in the original 1997 film. But rather, Christopher Showerman, a Brendan Fraser look-alike.
Even the film's off-screen narrator seems somewhat taken aback by this development. So he asks Showerman what happened to the actor who originally played this part. Christopher turns to the camera and -- while still in character -- matter-of-factly says "Studio too cheap to pay Brendan Fraser."
That's a great line, don't you think? Mind you, it isn't true. But it's a great line nonetheless.
Truth be told, the producers of the original "George of the Jungle" film -- Jon Avnet and Jordan Kerner -- were desperate to get Brendan to put on that loincloth one more time. Given how much money these Walt Disney Pictures release had made during the summer of 1997 (not to mention the additional millions that "George" made when the film made its home video debut that December), Jon and Jordan knew that a sequel to this movie would be a sure-fire money-maker.
The only problem was that Avnet and Kerner (who are normally pretty sharp operators) had neglected to include a sequel clause in their original contract with Fraser. So -- having completed work on the first film -- Brendan was now under no obligation to do a second "George of the Jungle" picture for Disney.
With the hope that more money might be enough to convince Fraser to return to the treetops, David and Jordan reportedly offered (back in October 2000) Brendan $12.5 million to appear in "George of the Jungle 2." Avnet and Kerner supposedly said they'd even give the actor script approval if he'd agree to "Watch out for that tree!" just one more time.
But Fraser had been pretty badly beaten up during the making of the first "George of the Jungle." The film's numerous slapstick action sequences had left Brendan covered with bruises (which the movie's make-up artists then had to touch and hide every time Fraser had to go back in front of the camera). And then -- when you add in the fact that it took Brendan six months of strict dieting and weight training to get in shape for that role -- maybe you can understand why Fraser wasn't all that eager to go back to the jungle. In spite of the large pile of dough that the film's producers had placed before him.
Still, Brendan did have some affection for the "George of the Jungle" character. (Fraser, as it turns out, is a huge animation fan. Which is why he agreed to appear in films like "George," "Dudley Do-Right," "Moneybone" as well as Warner's upcoming holiday release, "Looney Tunes: Back in Action.") And -- given that appearing in this Disney film had helped revive his career -- he felt that he owed the producers something.
So Brendan made a counter-proposal to Jon and Jordan. He'd agreed to appear in "George of the Jungle 2." But only for a very short but extremely funny cameo. Which would explain why Avnet and Kerner were forced to let the actor go and get someone else to star in their "George of the Jungle" sequel.
What was Fraser's idea? He'd get the very same make-up artists who kept covering up all the bruises he got while making the first "George of the Jungle" movie to build him a fat suit. A REALLY fat suit. Something that would make it look as if the actor had suddenly put on 300 - 400 pounds.
The idea was: "George of the Jungle 2" would start off with footage that had supposedly been taken of Brendan on his first day of work on the sequel. Clearly, the performer had let himself go between pictures. And it would immediately become obvious that Fraser's enormous weight gain was going to have an impact on the film. For every time the overweight actor would try and swing on a vine, he would rip it out of a tree. And every time Brendan would try and walk around the tree house, the tree would lean dangerously to one side.
Of course, this being a live action movie that was based on a Jay Ward cartoon, the film's producers would come up with a typically cartoonish way to solve their problem. They'd just lure off Fraser off of the "George of the Jungle 2" set (supposedly by leaving a trail of doughnuts, which would lead Brendan out of the soundstage and -- eventually -- off the Disney lot), and then bring in a brand-new, extremely-fit-looking actor to play the title role in the picture.
And -- with that one gag-filled opening sequence completed -- Fraser would be off the picture. Leaving that new actor to do all of that slamming-into-trees stuff on "George of the Jungle 2."
That's a pretty nifty idea of an opening for a "George of the Jungle" sequel, don't you think? Avnet and Kerner certainly thought so. Unfortunately -- when they ran Brendan's concept by the folks at Disney -- the Mouse House's politically correct managers quickly nixed the idea.
Why for? Well, the folks at Disney were worried that -- if the entire opening scene of "George of the Jungle 2" keyed off on the comic concept that a grossly overweight Brendan Fraser was no longer fit to play the title role in their film -- obese Americans might take offense. Which could result in negative publicity for the picture.
Now I know that might sound somewhat outlandish. A ridiculous over-reaction on the Disney Company's part. But -- truth be told -- something quite similar to this happened back in November of 2001, when the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) raised a ruckus over the release of "Shallow Hal," a Farrelly Brothers comedy that featured Gwyneth Paltrow masquerading as a 300-pound fat woman. (You can read a copy of the press release that NAAFA sent out to the media in response to this 20th Century Fox film.)
But -- beyond being sensitive to fat people -- Disney Studios officials felt that it would be just a tease for movie-goers to only have Brendan Fraser appear in the first five minutes of "George of the Jungle 2." Which is why the Mouse leaned on Avnet and Kerner, to see if they could persuade Fraser to at least make a few more appearances in the movie.
So Jon and Jordan then met with a few screenwriters, trying to come up with a logical way that Fraser's role in the "George of the Jungle" sequel. One of the gag writers who was hired to work on the picture came up with a particularly inspired solution:
"Luring Brendan off the studio lot with a trail of doughnuts is a really great idea. But what if we were to build on that gag? What if the fat Fraser is so ashamed that he got fired off the picture that he vows to get himself back in shape."
"So -- every so often in 'George of the Jungle 2' -- we cut back to Brendan. He's jogging, riding exercise bicycles, going to aerobic classes. Do everything he can to get back in shape. And -- each time we see him -- Fraser is getting slimmer and slimmer."
"Finally -- at the very end of the sequel -- Brendan comes running back on screen. He's finally fit and ready to begin shooting 'George of the Jungle 2.' But Disney's literally just wrapped production on the picture. By that I mean, Fraser can look down and actually see the words 'The End' hanging in mid-air in front of him."
"When Fraser hears this, he gets so depressed that he rushes over to over to the craft services and begins powering down doughnuts. As the credits roll, we see the director of 'George of the Jungle 2' desperately trying to talk Brendan out of eating himself into a coma. Saying stuff like 'If you keep the weight off, we'll let you be in 'George of the Jungle 3.'"
Again, a funny idea. Or so Avnet and Kerner thought. But when they sent the revised screenplay to Brendan, he rejected it out of hand.
Why for? Because Fraser was looking to do just a couple of days work on "George of the Jungle 2." But the new sequel script that Jon and Jordan sent him in April 2001 suggested that Fraser was going to have to work on this film for at least two or three weeks. Which wasn't what Brendan had in mind at all.
Which is why Brendan began telling reporters -- as he was doing publicity for "the Mummy Returns" -- that someone else could take on the title role in the "George of the Jungle" sequel. That he -- as an actor -- has moved on.
Finally realizing that the ship had sailed on Brendan Fraser being in "George of the Jungle 2" (but still being aware that the Walt Disney Company wanted to make a sequel to the film that had earned $105.3 million during its domestic release), Avnet and Kerner regrouped. Without Brendan on board, the Mouse wasn't going to give these producers as much money to make their movie. Which is why the "George of the Jungle" sequel went from being a theatrical release to a video premiere.
Cuts were then made across the board on this particular production. Where the first "George" film had featured sequences that had been filmed on location in Hawaii, the sequel would be shot in Queensland, Australia. (The production facilities on Australia's Gold Coast have become a favorite with Hollywood's pencil pushers. Given the favorable exchange rate as well as the Aussie's gift for stretching a film-maker's budget.)
And -- since Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann (the actress who had originally played George's love interest, Ursula Stanhope) had both opted out of appearing in the sequel -- Avnet and Kerner had to find two new leads for their film. After an exhaustive search, they hired Julie Benz -- best known for her work on the WB's "Angel" -- to play Ursula. And to play George, Jon and Jordan picked Brendan Fraser-lookalike Christopher Showerman.
"And who's Christopher Showerman?" you ask. Well -- up until he got hired to appear in "George of the Jungle 2" -- Christopher's biggest role to date has been as a contestant on NBC's reality series, "Fear Factor."
With Leslie Holland Taylor reprising her role as Beatrice Stanhope, Ursula's meddling mother; "Wings" sitcom star Thomas Haden Church once again playing the villianous Lyle Vandergroot; and Monty Python vet John Cleese on board to do more vocals for George's faithful gorilla companion, Ape, production of "George of the Jungle 2" officially got under way in Australia in August.
In kind of an ironic twist, when the "George of the Jungle 2" production team returned to the states to do some on-location scenes, they ended up shooting in Las Vegas during the exact same week that Brendan Fraser was in town filming an elaborate action sequence for "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." Which is when the new George decided that he was going to try and get ahold of the old George.
Which is why -- one night -- Christopher Showerman ended up dropping by the hotel where Brendan Fraser was staying. Christopher dropped a note at the front desk for Brendan, thanking him for turning down "George of the Jungle 2." Which resulted in Showerman getting his big break.
Five months later, Brendan bumped into Christopher at a charity event in Hollywood. He apologized for not getting in touch with the fledging actor. But -- in his note -- Showerman had neglected to tell Fraser which hotel on the Las Vegas strip he was staying in. As a result, Brendan had no idea how to get ahold of the guy.
The two actors then compared notes on doing "George of the Jungle" movies. With Fraser telling Showerman about his cameo idea and Christopher warning Brendan that Avnet and Kerner are already talking about "George of the Jungle 3."
So who knows? In a couple of years, maybe we'll see a sequel to "George of the Jungle 2." Which (given Disney's love of recycling) may feature that gags that Brendan Fraser originally cooked up for the follow-up to his Summer 1997 hit. Only -- this time around -- maybe it'll be Showerman who'll be pulling on the fat suit.
But -- for now -- I'm just pleased that the people who made "George of the Jungle 2" made sort of acknowledgment that Brendan Fraser wasn't in the film. But as for that "Studio too cheap to pay Brendan Fraser" joke ... well, it's a great line. But -- in this case -- the truth is so much more entertaining than the fiction.