Of all the Super Bowl commercials to make me cry, I never suspected that watching an M&M get kidnapped would push me over the edge. And yet, when I saw Rade Serbedzija threatening to chop up the yellow M&M, I was simultaneously paralyzed with fear and overcome with sadness. But why?
Surprisingly, this wasn’t about my irrational love of chocolate. It was about Serbedzija. I knew his face, and it only took me seconds to place him. He was the evil poacher from Mighty Joe Young! Just like that, my tears made sense.
Mighty Joe Young tells the story of Jill, who, as a young child, witnesses poachers killing her mother (along with a mother gorilla). She then promises her mom that she will take care of the baby gorilla who was also orphaned in the hunt. Flash-forward 12 years, and Joe — the gorilla — has outgrown his fellow gorillas due to a genetic abnormality. Thanks to his size, he’s not accepted by other gorillas and spends most of his time hanging out with Jill (played by Charlize Theron). At this point, if you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like King Kong, you’re not far off. However, instead of climbing the Empire State Building, Joe climbs a Ferris wheel. But I’ll get to that.
First things first, Jill decides to relocate to America so that Joe will be safe from poachers. In general, that thought would make sense, but Jill’s problem is a bit more targeted. She doesn’t need to worry about poachers. She needs to worry about one very specific poacher. Enter Andrei Strasser (Serbedzija), the poacher who killed Joe’s mother and had his trigger finger bitten off by baby Joe. Long story short: Strasser wants revenge. He finds Joe and nearly tricks Jill into moving him to a fake animal preserve before she realizes who Strasser is. And when she does, she and Joe run.
The action finds itself in the middle of a carnival as Strasser and his men try to shoot Joe. And although they fail to bring down the ape, they do manage to start a fire and wreak general havoc for the carnival attendees.
And when Joe sees a young boy stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel that’s currently on fire, the loving gorilla starts climbing. He gets to the top and grabs the boy, but the wheel can’t hold them both. The Ferris wheels tips over, and Joe clutches the young child to his chest in order to shield him from impact. Joe lands on his back, and the boy is safe. Joe’s hurt — bad. This is about the point at which I need my second box of tissues. Watching that fall is almost as bad as looking into Joe’s sweet eyes as he lies on the ground and fights to survive. Those images scarred me when I was a kid. Years later, I still can’t watch it. If you’re brave enough, take a gander:
To spoil the ending, Joe does survive — which is perhaps why this film doesn’t quite make me cry as hard as King Kong does. The witnesses of Joe’s bravery at the carnival help to contribute and raise money so that Jill and Joe can return to Africa and open a preserve of their own. Joe finds happiness, which, for some reason, has me crying almost as hard as the Ferris wheel. I just can’t win with this one.