Well, the Academy Award nominations are out now, and everything went more or less as expected, and I’m more or less pleased. The Blind Side sneaking into the Best Picture race kind of…um…blind-sided me, making the cut over Clint Eastwood’s expected Invictus. Other than that, they were all there: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air, District 9, An Education, A Serious Man, Up…and Avatar.
Yeah, a lot of people absolutely love Avatar, James Cameron’s massive-scale science fiction passion project. I’m not one of them, though. I’ve been loudly campaigning against it since the moment I saw it. Now it’s tied with Kathryn Bigelow’s (ex-wife of James Cameron) Iraq war movie (and far superior) The Hurt Locker for the most nominations, with nine.
Of course, while The Hurt Locker received an unsurprising and most deserved nomination for Best Original Screenplay, James Cameron’s script for Avatar was unsurprisingly and most deservedly left off that ballot. In other words, I got just what I asked for last week. Thanks, Oscar!
Surely this can’t come to Mr. Cameron as a surprise. Surely the constant allegations of his movie’s similarity in plot to Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Ferngully haven’t gone completely under his radar. Surely he knows that he’s one of the most unoriginal talents in the film industry today, right?
And listen, friends…this isn’t the first time, either. Wolves, Pocahontas, and Ferngully are all pretty obvious films to connect with Avatar, as they share similar settings and/or aesthetics. But remember Titanic? (I know, I know, it’s easy to forget.) Despite its since-unbeaten 14 Oscar nominations (and eleven subsequent wins), Cameron threw a tantrum twelve years ago when Titanic failed to be acknowledged for its screenplay.
Now, I want you to think about Titanic—about its plot, its characters, everything. Are you thinking about it? Good. Now I want you to think about Disney’s live action big-screen adaptation of the popular 60’s cartoon George of the Jungle. Think about those same things in regards to that movie. Now I want you to feel your love and admiration for the mind of James Cameron draining out of your body.
The similarities between the plots and characters of George of the Jungle and Titanic are so similar, you might have to vomit. Let’s explore.
Our lead character in Titanic is Jack Dawson, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio. In George of the Jungle, our lead character is George, of the jungle, and is played by Brendan Fraser. Both men are from a low-income-to-primitive background. They are lacking in the areas of physical presentation and general skills of etiquette.
Both of our characters meet a nice young rich woman who is on an expedition with loved ones. Jack meets a first-class passenger on Titanic, Rose, played by Kate Winslet. George meets Ursula, a woman enjoying a safari vacation, unbeknownst to her, in George’s place of residence. She is played by Leslie Mann. Both women are black sheep in their families for their inexplicable lack of hatred and disgust for the poor.
Both women also have a rich and cartoonishly arrogant fiancé. Rose is engaged to Cal, played by Billy Zane, usually a cool dude to whom we should all listen, but in the case of this film, he’s always wrong and never cool. Ursula is engaged to Lyle, played by Thomas Haden Church, who was so lovable as Lowell on Wings, but not here he’s not! He’s a douche.
Both Rose and Ursula have overbearing money-hungry mothers who just love, love, love their rich arrogant fiancés and hate, hate, hate the mysterious new poor boy.
Now, since both films are about poor lowly common boys who want to win the heart of a seemingly unwinnable rich girl, they wouldn’t be complete without a friendly character to help clean them up and teach them the game. In Jack’s case, his friendly helper is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. For George, it’s an ape named Ape, voiced by John Cleese.
And since these films are timeless love stories, then certainly the low-income-boy’s love is reciprocated in both circumstances, and much to the chagrin of the lady in question’s mother and fiancé? Yes, indeed. In fact, in both movies the forbidden couples first meet under circumstances of the lady being in peril, and the poverty-stricken lad coming to her rescue.
Of course, in Titanic, the peril is Rose’s own choice as she stands at the edge of the boat, contemplating jumping. And then along comes Jack who talks her down—but then she slips and he has to save her! In George of the Jungle, George meets Ursula when he saves her from a lion after Lyle pusses out.
If that’s not enough, both couples reach the apex of their bonding experience during a night of joyous ethnic dancing.
And beyond those character developments, both films document infamous crashes—that of the Titanic into an unforeseen iceberg, and that of George himself into many, many trees. Both films have irritating theme songs that have surely found themselves stuck in your head before.
Now, I’m not alleging that James Cameron knowingly ripped off George of the Jungle—which was released only a few months before Titanic was, but if this man’s outrageously expensive passion projects are comprised of characters and storytelling that can’t stretch beyond something that a handful of Disney drones thought up in their sleep, then is he really deserving of all this acclaim and attention?
And if Avatar is teaching us anything, it’s that this isn’t a fluke, either. Dances with Wolves. Pocahontas. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Will James Cameron ever stop? Or are we doomed to watch the big-screen $500,000,000 version of fighting-man-and-wife-trapped-in-elevator-and-resolve-their-differences. Or was that True Lies, kinda?