Mighty Joe Young: King Kong’s Little Brother Turns 60

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jul 27, 2009 in Animation, Cinema |

Mighty Joe Young 1949

On this date in 1949 — yes that’s exactly sixty years ago — the film Mighty Joe Young was released in the United States. I grew up with this film because it was always paired up as the double feature with King Kong during holidays on ancient broadcast television (this wasn’t the major networks by the way, something you’d see on an independent  channel like WOR-TV here in NYC). King Kong was of course an iconic film made in 1933 and even watching in the 21st Century it still is a powerful film — but sadly like a lesser little brother Mighty Joe Young never quite measured up in my book.

Mighty Joe Young 1949

And why was I so let down with this film even as a child? Well the plot of the film is very derivative of King Kong: Sweet Jill Young has had pet gorilla since her childhood, and now that she and the gorilla are grown up a Hollywood weasel, err “promoter” convinces her to come to America where they get exploited. Of course any cinematic gorilla worth his salt knows that this is an opportunity to cause mayhem and chaos, and I’ll let you guess the rest.

Mighty Joe Young 1949

Although what’s shocking to me is that given the unoriginality of the film Might Joe actually won an Oscar in 1950, although that was special effects so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised. In fact one of the better things about this film is that the special effects were mostly done by legendary Ray Harryhausen. This was the first film that his newly created stop-motion animation technique. And thus the film deserved an Oscar for that work, however the film itself did very poorly at the box office. There were plans in 1950 to do a sequel which would have teamed up our gorilla with Tarzan, but the bad reception for the first film killed that off (and maybe that’s not a bad thing?). Sadly Disney would go on to remake Mighty Joe Young in 1998 — but this time good taste prevailed and they were denied an Oscar!

Below: The nightclub scene with Joe making a monkey out of Hollywood!

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