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The Mighty Kong
(1997)

Director: Art Scott  
Voice Cast:
Dudley Moore, Jodi Benson, Randy Hamilton


If you read enough about cult films on various cult movie web sites on the Internet, as well as with the printed page, you'll start to see some patterns after a while. One of these patterns can be found when the reviewers handle a movie that is not only a bona fide cult movie, but happened to be made during the "golden age" of Hollywood, which was from the start of the talkies to approximately the end of the 1940s. I'm speaking of "big" cult movies, like Frankenstein or Dracula. With movies like these, the authors frequently reminisce about the time they first saw these movies (always when they were children) and what a big impact the movies made on them. Let me give you an example as to how these recalled memories sound like, pieced together from bits of many recollections I have read over the years, using King Kong as an example: "I can remember the first time I came across King Kong. It took place one midnight show during a weekend afternoon where I decided to skip school and stay at home watching TV. The host of the evening movie show, Uncle Koko the Clown Ghoul, informed us viewers right before the movie that we were in for a treat. I didn't pay much attention to him, and for the first minutes of the movie I didn't understand what was so special about the movie. Then the characters got to Skull Island, in quick order Fay Wray was kidnapped... and then Kong appeared. Upon my first sight of Kong, my jaw stopped masticating the cookie in my mouth. I was agog - I had never seen anything like this before. Even though there was no color and the special effects were old-fashioned, Kong was a genuine character, a genuine king in movieland. After the movie was over, I raced to my local library the next day to find out just how the filmmakers had managed to make Kong and the rest of the movie. It was the movie that started my interest in classic fantasy and horror films."

Believe me, I would have loved to have begun this review with my own childhood recollections of seeing King Kong for the first time, and sound as qualified as those other movie reviewers and historians. But to be honest, I can't. That's because I never got to see King Kong for a long, long time. During the first few years of my life, my family only could get two television stations . They were Canadian television stations, so they were more interested in showing Canadian content instead of real movies and television shows. Eventually, we were able to get the "Big Three" American TV networks, but those Seattle-based TV stations didn't show classic movies as well. When VCRs started to get popular and my family got one, none of the video stores in my community stocked King Kong or pretty much any classic fantasy or horror films. Then when I became an adult, and I moved to another city with more television channels, none of them ever showed King Kong as well. To make a long story short, I eventually did see King Kong. And what was my reaction to it? Well, it wasn't as big of a reaction like those people who saw the movie in their childhood. Don't get me wrong - I certainly didn't hate the movie. I do recognize that it was revolutionary when it was first released and should be seen for that reason. I just thought the movie as a whole was simply... good. Why didn't I go ape (heh) for the movie? Well, I guess it would have been more magical when I was a child. If I saw the movie as a child, I wouldn't have seen as many fantasy and horror movies I had seen prior to watching it as an adult. Then maybe it would have been a defining part of my lifetime moviegoing, and always have a special place in my mind.

As a result of seeing King Kong for the first time late in my life, I am nowhere as attached to it as many movie lovers are. When it comes to the idea of remaking it, I have no objections to the idea. Don't get me wrong - I found the 1976 remake of it to be pretty bad, and while the 2005 The Mighty Kongversion was decent, it was often overblown when you compare it to the original version's quieter tone, which was charming at times. And I certainly didn't like the Kong rip-offs A*P*E or Queen Kong. What I am saying is that with every time I come across a reimaging of King Kong, I don't prepare for it by thinking somewhere along the lines of, "Blasphemy! Nothing can come close to the original King Kong!" Instead, I am willing to give it a chance. So when I got in my hands a copy of the movie The Mighty Kong, I did not immediately sneer at it. In fact, I was a little intrigued by the movie for several reasons. One reason was that this telling of the movie promised to be a more family-friendly version. It got a "G" rating from the MPAA, which made me wonder how they would deal with some of the rougher portions of the story. Another reason I was interested was that this version was hand-drawn animated, not live action. A third reason was the talent hired for this movie - Dudley Moore was hired to voice both the character of lead character Carl Denham as well as Kong. And Richard and Robert Sherman, the composers of the songs in movies like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, were listed as composers of the songs here. (Yes, The Mighty Kong is a musical.)

The plot involves... oh, I am sure that even if you haven't actually seen the original King Kong, you have a reasonable idea of what goes on in this version. Though there are indeed a number of differences between the two, most of these differences have to do with the art of movie-making instead of changes to the plot and characters. And The Mighty Kong isn't very well made at all. Let me start explaining why with a look at the characters. The characters in The Mighty Kong - human or otherwise - have no personality. The Carl Denham character is a somewhat dim-witted showman who always talks like he's on the job and shows no feelings for others or even himself. By the time he meets Ann, we know nothing about him. This character is so boring it shouldn't come as a surprise that Dudley Moore doesn't sound very enthusiastic voicing him, even during his character's one song number. And the character of Ann is given no real character attributes or background when we meet her, except that she seems to be on hard times because she tries to steal an apple. Later on in the movie, when Ann and the character of Jack all of a sudden declare their love for each other despite not previously having a real conversation between the two of them, it feels false and forced. When Ann is subsequently kidnapped on Skull Island and Jack goes to the rescue, you don't feel that he's doing it out of love or even for the basic concern for human life many of us have. The feeling that you get instead is that Jack decides to rescue Ann because without him doing so, the movie would come to an abrupt end. Instead of the movie going along in various directions by the characters and their decisions, the movie is more or less dictating what the characters should say and do. Since the characters seem to have no control despite being in every scene, it's difficult to get involved with their plight, and equally difficult to think about them as even mere protagonists or antagonists.

I know that the primary audience this movie was aimed at was children. But the screenplay for this movie was written to be so simple-minded and without any color that I think even kids will get bored and wish to leave the room before the movie is over. Even the character of Kong won't intrigue them enough to stay. The movie seems to think that he's interesting, showing him clearly in the first sixty seconds of the movie instead of saving him for a surprise later, perhaps from a realization that the first part of the movie was incredibly dull and needed some life. But Kong doesn't show life here or anywhere else in the movie. One big reason is that we seldom get to see a good look of Kong. We keep seeing him from the chest up, or with most of his body blocked by buildings or trees. But the problem of Kong goes beyond simple presentation. In the scene where Ann is tied up by the natives for sacrifice, when Kong appears he doesn't come across as a wild beast like he did in the original film. Nor does he seemed intrigued by the initial sight of Ann. In fact, Kong is so uninterested in this moment that he leaves the scene with Ann in his grasp about thirty seconds after he first showed up. Later on in the movie, while he's on his New York rampage, he's so uninterested in going wild that about the only destruction he does is place a car on an elevated subway track, and letting a subway train smack into and destroy the car instead of doing it himself. And get this: When he reaches The Empire State Building, we don't see him consider it or struggle with it - in the next shot he is suddenly on the top of the building! In fact, the most interesting thing that we get to see about Kong is that this gigantic gorilla appears to be in the middle of growing a mustache, judging from the noticeable stubble on his upper lip.

From that subject, it seems to be a good time to get into how the rest of the movie's art and animation comes across. I admit I wasn't expecting too much, seeing that this was a straight-to-video movie, but I soon discovered that even then my expectations were too high. This is one of the worst-looking pieces of animation I have seen for a long time. For one thing, it doesn't look like it was done under the control of one team, seeing how the designs of the characters differ wildly through the movie. Some characters look straight from a '70s Filmation television show, while other characters look so grotesque that they barely look human. In a couple of scenes with characters dressed alike (female dancers on stage, or natives), animation director Art Scott, who never directed anything before or since this movie, doesn't even try to differentiate the characters' faces, making it appear Skull Island and New York were both blessed with the birth of sextuplets years earlier. When any of the characters move, their choppy movements lack even reasonable smoothness; even typical American children's animation on TV released at the same time of this movie was much more slick and colorful than what's on display here. The movie also cheats by adding some brief computer animation that really doesn't fit in with the crude look of the movie, as well as using some live action footage, the latter of which, to me, says to the audience, "We were too cheap and lazy to totally animate this movie." In short, The Mighty Kong is one movie that lands with as big of a thud as Kong does at the end of the movie. Though this Kong actually survives his fall from the top of The Empire State Building, suggesting that these filmmakers thought they had a franchise on their hands. Though given that there hasn't been a hint of a sequel in the works in the more than fourteen years since the movie was made, it looks like the chance of seeing Kong's further adventures is about as likely as this particular Sherman brothers' score getting a release on iTunes or CD.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: A*P*E, King Kong Escapes, Queen Kong

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