With the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, there is no better time to explore this lesser-known animated series for our cartoon catch-ups. Kong: The Animated Series was an American-Canadian production that ran for two seasons, beginning in 2001. It acted as BKN Entertainment’s competitor to the Godzilla animated series that had aired not long before (You can find a full cartoon catch-up of that series right here on HeadStuff). A fun show that completely flips the King Kong mythos, Kong: The Animated Series, while far from groundbreaking, managed to create a version of Kong that for a small group of people is a fond memory of early 2000s animation.
King Kong, famously of Skull Island and fated to climb and fall from New York’s Empire State Building, is a character that has been adapted in a number of ways, with 12 films having been centred around the enormous ape between 1933 and 2021. Many of these movies have the same basic structure, adapting the black and white original classic and putting a modern spin on it. Kong: TAS, meanwhile, is totally different in that it pays a small homage to the previous iterations of the franchise before pursuing a totally new path.
In the animated series, Kong is a genetically engineered gorilla created by Dr. Lorna Jenkins from the DNA of the original King Kong, as well as genes from her grandson Jason, the series’ human protagonist. When some magical stones are stolen and a demon is awakened, human and ape must band together to retrieve them. The pair can also combine using a Cyber-Link device that makes Kong stronger, helping him to fight bigger, more dangerous foes.
Yes, on paper, the plot sounds ludicrous, but when compared with the Godzilla series that came before it, we can quickly see the urge to compete from the production team and the need to make something that would stand out. Stand out, it did, so much so that it spawned two movies based on the series, Kong: King of Atlantis and Kong: Return to the Jungle, released in 2005 and 2007 respectively.
The animation here isn’t anything new, evoking comparisons to the aforementioned Godzilla series, as well as Big Guy and Rusty, Men in Black and other similar action cartoons of the late 90s and early 00s. BKN is a block that was famous for giving viewers animated versions of famous films such as the Jumanji animated series, The Mask: AS and Highlander: TAS, to name but a few. It knew its target audience and where to spread its influence in sales. As the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” goes, they kept to the animation style that has breathed life into so many shows we now look back on with nostalgia.
French animation studio Le Studio Ellipse provided much of the animation in Kong: TAS, a company that had worked on everything from Sonic Underground to The Garfield Show. The voice cast also fits nicely with the animation style. Kong was played (with a series of grunts, mainly) by veteran voice actor Scott McNeil. The actor is known for voicing many other iconic characters including Wolverine in X-Men: Evolution. A multi-talented man, McNeil gives Kong a feeling of strength and power with each sound emitted from the ape’s mouth. Playing Jason, meanwhile, was Kirby Morrow – who sadly passed away in 2020. The actor was notable for his work voicing Goku on the latter half of the Dragon Ball Z Ocean dub. In Kong: TAS, both performers bounce off each other wonderfully. Despite the ridiculous premise, viewers always believe in what they are doing – whether it be fighting a monster or sharing a friendly bonding moment – friendship being a common theme of the series.
Kong: TAS managed to prove popular enough to have video game adaptations and garnered a cult following. Now that Godzilla vs Kong is finally with us, we may be waiting a while for our next King Kong fix. Until then, maybe Kong: The Animated Series can scratch that ape itch. While the series may not be perfect, it does break free from the chains of its franchise and climb high in its fans’ hearts. We can definitely say that you won’t beat your chest with this one.