SUSPENDED ANIMATION
March 20, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

More Kong: Behind the 1998 Warner Bros. Animated Musical Feature

SUSPENED ANIMATION #259

One of the most recognizable characters of all time, King Kong has appeared in several films produced by different studios as well as some animated projects over the decades.

In 1952, Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien who were both responsible for the original 1933 RKO film considered doing a remake of the movie in Cinerama. The project, titled The Eighth Wonder, never was made. A remake of the original film that did get made maybe shouldn’t have been.

The Mighty Kong (1998) is a seventy minute direct-to-video Warner Brothers animated musical adaptation written by William J. Keenan based on the 1933 movie. Kong doesn’t actually appear until nearly forty-two minutes into the film. It was produced by Lana Productions and directed by Art Scott.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in art education, Scott began working as an in-betweener at the Mintz Studio and later the story department. He moved back to animation until he was laid off in 1939.

At the Disney studio, he was an assistant animator to Dick Lundy on short films. He stayed at Disney through the strike of 1941, and afterward was assigned to produce navy training films. Scott worked on segments of Fantasia, Bambi and Melody Time, as well as short subjects including Mickey’s Delayed Date.

After Disney, he started his own company, Art Scott Productions, in 1947 producing cartoons based on music called MelloTunes. He returned to Disney in 1955 as a storyman on The Mickey Mouse Club. From Disney, Scott headed to Hanna-Barbera, doing storyboards for The Flintstones.

During the off season he worked on industrial films for John Sutherland Productions. Later he became a director for the Beany and Cecil television series. He went on to work for Larry Harmon Productions as a story man before returning to Hanna-Barbera as production manager. He worked for Hanna-Barbera for many years, moving up to associate producer. Scott passed away in May 1999 roughly a year after the release of The Mighty Kong.

The Kong feature was animated overseas by South Korean animation studios including Anirom, Hahn Shin Corporation, Rainbow Animation Korea as well as Jade Animation in Hong Kong and meant primarily for children.

Jade Animation is a Chinese studio founded in 1986 by Mr. Run Run Shaw. It was responsible for work for Disney including episodes of 101 Dalmatians: The Series, Hercules: The Animated Series, Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Aladdin, Bonkers, TaleSpin and more.

Despite the talent involved in the animated film, it has been harshly criticized although it is probably just harmlessly bad with an obvious limited budget hindering anything interesting. There is even one scene with live-action footage during the “Dolly of Popalliali” sequence where animated sea foam and seals are superimposed over real water.

The Sherman Brothers

Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, voices Ann Darrow – and Dudley Moore, in his last role, voices Carl Denham. Original songs were supplied by the legendary Sherman Brothers.

As Richard Sherman remembered, “A few years back we worked with producers Lyn Henerson and Denis deVallance and musical director David Siebels on the Timberwood Tales (1991) television series. It was a delightful experience, so we were quite happy when Lyn and Denis asked us to again join their creative team at L.A. Animation.

“Our job: musicalize the classic story of the great ape, King Kong. As we had done with The Jungle Book (1967) we lightened up a rather dark tale with our songs. After all, the concept was to create, as the producers called it, a ‘kid-friendly’ animated musical version of the story.

“Working with screenwriter William J. Keenan and director Art Scott, we helped develop the personalities of the leading characters, adding a bit of flamboyance to Carl Denham and a great deal of emotional strength to his leading lady Ann Darrow voiced by the talented Jodi Benson. Good company, indeed!

“The film was released for a brief theatrical run in the summer of 1998, after which The Mighty Kong found his way home on videotape.”


The story is familiar:

After cancelling his New York stage show Wild Animal Follies to pursue a film project, famous producer Carl Denham finds his lead actress Ann Darrow trying to steal an apple. He and his assistant Roscoe convince her that fame and fortune awaits her if she joins the company.

On the ship Java Queen, Darrow encounters a cabin boy named Ricky and his monkey Chips. She also meets Jack Driscoll, a rough character who dislikes having a woman aboard the ship because he thinks she is a jinx. After six weeks at sea, the ship arrives at Skull Island. A hesitant crew is swayed to venture onto the island by Denham’s offer of bonuses and their names in the film’s credits.

On the island they find the natives in the middle of a ceremony for their Monkey God. When they accidentally interrupt the ceremony, the natives become obssessed with Darrow. Driscoll protectively takes her back to the ship where in a song written by the Sherman Brothers, they declare their love:

“It seems I’ve known you all my life. I know it’s crazy but it’s true.
“In dream, I’ve seen ou ev’ry night. Though I’m no dreamer, I’ve dreamed of you.
“Is this a fantasy, the way I feel? I’m so at home with you, can it be real?
“Two strangers meet, and magically they know what’s meant to be.
“They see their destiny. Oh, tell me that’s it’s true.
“In dreams, you’ve known me, too. And loved me all your life as I love you.”

The island natives kidnap Darrow that night from the ship. The crew later discover her tied to two posts being wheeled up a mountain where Kong takes her.

This is followed by less than ten minutes where Kong defeats a Tyrannosaurus Rex and takes Darrow to his volcano lair where there is a waterfall scene where Darrow gets wet and he dries her off with his breath in a nod to a similar scene in the 1976 King Kong film. Kong is also attacked by pterodactyls and giant snake (in another nod to the 1976 film). While Kong is occupied, Driscoll rescues Darrow. When Kong pursues them he is knocked out with gas bombs.

Denham takes him back to New York to become the star of his latest stage show The Mighty Kong. Denham soothes Darrow’s discomfit by claiming the proceeds from the show will go to buying a thousand acres in south New Jersey for Kong to roam free. Darrow responds, “He can’t survive in Jersey… nobody can!” The flashes from the cameras upset Kong who breaks free.

Driscoll and Darrow flee while Kong roams New York in seach of his love. He plays a makeshift round of golf in the streets and other hijinks like putting a car with amorous teenagers on the train tracks.

The animation is so bad that Driscoll and Darrow walk rather than run when Kong escapes. Kong finds Darrow in her hotel room and grabs her. Kong climbs the Empire State Building where they are attacked by airplanes who have such bad aim that no bullets hit. Finally two blimps with a cargo net strung between them fly over Kong to capture him. While he is caught in the net, his weight causes him to rip the net and he plummets to the ground.

While Denham says the famous line of beauty killing the beast, Kong’s eyes open showing him to still be alive.

10 Comments

  • I “ape-preciate” your series of posts about King Kong in animation; may I show my “ape-proval” by “ape-plauding”! I was especially interested in your profile of director Art Scott. “The Mighty Kong” seems to have been the culmination of a very long and distinguished career in animation.

    I have commented before on my fondness for this movie, which I recently saw for a second time. Of course I have to acknowledge its flaws. By the standards of theatrical features of the nineties, the animation is poor; the dance sequences, especially, are poorly timed and could have benefited from additional in-betweening. The comic gags in Kong’s Manhattan rampage seem out of place, and Jodi Benson oversells every song she sings. (Howard Ashman chided her about that tendency when she recorded “The Little Mermaid”.) Small children at the time, who were unfamiliar with the King Kong story, would probably have tuned out before the title character made his first appearance (“ape-pearance”). But for those of us who love the original King Kong, musicals, the Sherman brothers, and the animation style of 1970s Saturday morning cartoons, the film is a real treat. I’ve seen few movies that are so in line with my personal tastes.

    By the way, King Kong first appeared in a cartoon less than two months after the original movie premiered. At the end of “Cubby’s World Flight” (RKO/Van Beuren, 25/4/33 — Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, dir.), King Kong, atop the Empire State Building, is cheering along with the rest of the crowd upon Cubby Bear’s triumphant return to New York. This is also the first American cartoon to depict Hitler — and he’s drinking beer!

    • And a few months after that, Disney did its own take on Kong in the Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Pet Shop”. Beebo, the “Movie Monk”, decides to imitate his screen idol by grabbing Minnie and climbing a tower of bird seed boxes.

  • A musical adaptation of “KING KONG”? The idea leaves me frozen (no pun intended), but I could imagine a fully animated version of the story, as spectacular as the original live action film, if not more since the image of Kong in the original movie was animated…and I’ve come to realize that kids like to be “scared” at a movie. It is the spectacle that pulls them in, and the journey to the darkest jungle could lead to a lot of interesting spectacle. Even if the film had, say, the look of the old cartoon, “OLD GLORY”, it still could have kept audiences spellbound. Oh well.

  • Thank you for this post. Being a true Kong-o-holic (I even went to see his Broadway play last year….spectacular!). I am astonished that there is an entity i have YET to see. Thank you much!!

  • I noticed recently The Mighty Kong can be watched for free on Tubi TV, so anyone who can view that site can watch it here.
    https://tubitv.com/movies/467622/the_mighty_kong

  • “The Mighty Kong” is free to view on Amazon Prime.

  • It’s on YouTube as well.

  • Fascin-ape-nating, to see the Sherman brothers linked wth WB (well, one-removed thru 1969’s GOLDILOCKS witht he Crosby Family (Bing and starring/introducing Mary Frances), Paul Winchell & Avery Schreiber doing voices, thru DePatie-Freleng, but that was just as much, even more, UA/MGM/Mrirsch, like so many other DF’s, as WBs.)Speaking of which, the UA/Reader’s Diugest 1973 Sherman-fest TOM SAYER, with Johnnie Whittaker (then about to play his semi-titular self on SIGMUND/SEA MONSTERS) and my sort of crush, Jodie Foster (I;m roughly the same age), was to have been done at WB,,whose 1930s-40s cartoons, ironically were OWNED by United Artists..small world, huh (and that is ANOTHER Sherman connection..saw the TOM SAWYER film when it was out..:))

  • Nice work there. Very well researched.
    Check out my documentary, HAIL TO THE KING – A KING NAMED KONG (2014).
    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21zj24

  • Just curious, is this the only time The Sherman Brothers worked on an Warner Brothers film, animated or live action?

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