Back in fall of 2015, when it was first announced that the upcoming Kong: Skull Island would be produced by Warner Bros. instead of Universal, a lot of the fandom was ecstatic, musing over what a Kong flick from the same company that gave us 2014’s Godzilla would be like. Some of us reminded them.
Okay, that’s not technically fair. The Mighty Kong was distributed by Warner, but so is the original. Also, I guess I should amend the prior statement that 1967 was the last time Godzilla and Kong flicks played theatrically during the same year, since this movie graced a whopping three American screens in 1998.
The actual creation of the movie was done through Lana Productions and LA Animation (if IMDB is correct), noteworthy mostly for another animated entry with Kong: The Animated Series. However, the credits here are stunning: the producer was anime giant Koichi Motohashi, the film stars Dudley Moore (Bedazzled) and Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid), and has songs written by the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins). All things considered, it’s probably my favorite animated version of Kong, and naturally, it has never been made available on DVD, BD, or streaming.
The movie is not without problems that could make it a hard sell. The timing of its release makes it appear a cash-grab to ride the coattails of Sony’s Godzilla. In a 70 minute movie, the title character doesn’t appear until after the 40-minute mark, and there’s only 10 minutes or so on Skull Island. The animation is sort of slapdash, and for water effects and explosions they just employ live-action footage with animated characters in front of it. There is admittedly a typical Disney-animated-feature level of stupid comedy relief. And lastly, the King Kong story as a musical probably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way at the time of release (we’d had big musicals based on monster movies before, e.g. Little Shop of Horrors, but not American classics). One look at the cover also makes it look like Kong’s about to burst into song, but rest assured, in the actual film, he’s much more intimidating.
Oops, wrong image.
Ah, that’s better. The story is actually slavishly faithful to the original, and generally treats the characters with respect, even maintaining Jack’s initial bout of period-appropriate misogyny, the islanders’ human sacrifice, and a heck of a lot of gunplay, elements which were generally frowned upon in children’s media at the time. Yeah, there were some dumb gags and (not-too-shabby) songs added, but Peter Jackson’s version has worse additions in its runtime. I was also surprised that they hit the major players in Skull Island, and even threw in a giant snake.
The one taboo is having anyone actually die, so even though they preserve the “beauty killed the beast” line, they have Kong open his eyes to let the audience know it’s alright. That may be a cop-out, but maybe they were planning a follow-up as a musical version of King Kong Lives.
The best thing I can say (possibly of any media) is that The Mighty Kong isn’t boring; a lot happens and it passes quickly. That alone puts it over some of the entries of the franchise, and it’s sort of a bummer that we have to break out a VCR to play it.