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Kong: Skull Island is another reminder of one simple fact: King Kong is a great idea — he’s a giant unstoppable gorilla! — who’s never quite found the ideal story to surround him.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the character’s multiple animated incarnations, where he’s been reinvented and rebooted a number of times, with each new take seeming to focus less on the strengths of the basic concept and more on adding new twists and turns to try and keep the character interesting. If you’ve ever thought, “What if King Kong could telepathically merge with a human to search for mystical stones?” — then … well, expect to get very excited about the guide to Kong’s animated adventures below.
The King Kong Show (1966-1969)
Two things make this series particularly notable. Firstly, it was the first anime series produced in Japan specifically for U.S. broadcast (Toei Animation, which would later unleash Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z on the world, made it for ABC). Secondly, it was the first Kong project to realize that people didn’t want to see a rampaging, romantic giant ape fall for an actress — instead, they wanted to see him team up with a family for fun adventures because all he really wanted was friendship. And, perhaps, a chance to lift and/or punch mountains for no immediately obvious reason. (Great theme song, though.)
The Mighty Kong (1998)
If the original King Kong (or, for that matter, its 1976 remake) had one flaw, it would obviously be the fact that it wasn’t a musical. If it had two, then the clear lack of Dudley Moore would be a contender, which makes this kid-friendly third attempt at the story the winner in any straight comparison. Although there’s no adorable kid sidekick for the gigantic Kong this go-around, there are some adorable animal sidekicks, which only makes sense for a story about … a caged animal breaking free and going on a rampage? It was the 1990s. Many mistakes were being made.
Kong: The Animated Series (2000-2001)
The high concept of this short-lived series is impressively off-brand for King Kong: It actually centers around a clone of the original Kong, who also shares genes with the grandson of the scientist who created him. Kong and the grandson can “merge” when Kong is enraged, making a stronger, larger Kong, and the two of them work together with a number of others to find the “Primal Stones” that can prevent a demon from destroying the world. You might ask, “Is King Kong actually famous enough as a brand to appeal to kids when it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the series?” The answer might come in the fact that the show only lasted 40 episodes, although it did manage to spin off a couple of direct-to-DVD movies, Kong: King of Atlantis and Kong: Return to the Jungle.
Kong: King of the Apes (2016)
The most recent animated take on the concept is, in many ways, a mix of everything that came before: There’s the rampaging beast (and dinosaur-punching) elements of the original movie — although he’s not quite as rampage-y, as it’s revealed that he’d been framed by nefarious forces — as well as the kid sidekick of the 1960s show and the sci-fi angle of the 2000 series, with this new take set in the future, with Kong and friends saving the world by fighting robotic dinosaurs. Whether or not this means it’s the best of all worlds or simply a particularly confused concept is in the eye of the beholder, however. What’s so wrong with just having a King Kong show where there’s a giant ape and he’s on the loose in a civilization that doesn’t understand him and hunts him down? It worked for the Hulk for years, after all…
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