The premise behind "Kong: The Animated Series" sounds like a mad result of a bad round of Mad Libs where the show's producers tossed out a series of late-90s buzzwords: internet, cloning, kung fu.
The series, which ran in syndication for a single season in 2000, takes place in a "present day" that's a couple decades after the original Eighth Wonder of the World did a cannonball off the Empire State Building. For reasons unclear, Dr. Lorna Jenkins saved some of Kong's DNA, mixed it with her grandson's genes, and cooked up a Kong copy, whom she's raised - where else? - on Kong Island. It should be noted that for some reason, Kong is a sort of purplish-blue, which suggests an error somewhere in the cloning process.
In the two-part pilot episode "The Return," Jason (the grandson; he's a - sigh - karate champ) and his billionaire surfer dude pal Eric Tanenbaum (he likes pizza, and says so every two minutes of airtime) take time off from college to visit Kong Island, where they discover granny - with the help of a jungle girl/shaman named Lua - has invented the "cyberlink," a headset thingy that's part videophone, part web browser, part magical device that lets Jason and Kong "merge" body and mind, combo-morphing into "Mega-Kong."
Sometimes Mega-Kong is smarter and has Jason's martial arts skills, and sometimes Mega-Kong is just a really big monkey who punches better than usual; there are times I'm convinced the writers don't have that well a grip on the concept. Oh, and the cyberlink works in reverse, too, with Kong merging with Jason's body, although the only effect is that Jason's eyes glow and he talks like Cookie Monster.
Cluttering up things even more is the fact that Jason's college professor is in reality the villainous Ramon De La Porta - an undercover scheme that must've taken years to set up, like Donnie Brasco; one wonders if the guy ever risked getting too deep. You can see it now: there's De La Porta in an office crowded with ungraded term papers and twenty years' worth of dusty text books, his mechanical hand (the real one was burned by acid during a Kong Island raid years ago) holding the cupcake Betty from the history department made to celebrate his being awarded tenure, and all his best grad students have gathered around to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," and for a moment or two, he considers abandoning his quest for world domination and finally giving in fully to the cozy life of a sleepy college town.
So, anyway, De La Porta's the bad guy.
The professor, having hitched a ride to Kong Island, manages to swipe Lorna's cyberlink technology, turning himself into a giant tiger-man-beast-thing. Throughout the series, other baddies also nab a cyberlink, and the whole show becomes overcrowded with man-animal hybrids, which sort of goes against the initial idea of the cyberlink's rarity, but whatever.
The rest of the series deals mainly with the "Primal Stones," a set of thirteen rocks embodied with magical powers; De La Porta wants them for the usual bad guy reasons, while Jason and company must protect them in order to keep the ancient god-beast Chiros from being unleashed on the world. (The original Kong, you see, was the protector of Kong Island and was responsible for "keeping the balance of the Stones," but now the Stones are unbalanced, etc., etc.)
It makes sense for a series to deal with so many elements throughout its run, especially in a show built around larger story arcs, where room for various ideas are allowed to grow. (The episodes are much more interconnected than most kids' fare, and the series builds to a legitimate conclusion in its final episodes.) But the producers of "Kong" oddly decide to try to handle all these ideas at once, and the whole thing becomes a clutter - especially once the scripts begin to pile up their supporting villains and Atlantis-related mythology.
What's interesting here, in a sad kind of way, is how the writers spend so much time developing these complex backstories and detailed MacGuffins, when all they really want to do is show a couple monsters beating the heck out of each other. All this talk of Chiros and Primal Stones and all these De La Porta schemes wind up amounting to not much of anything; it's all just an excuse for "Kong smash."
While the idea of King Kong beating up a variety of giant creatures in a variety of settings (one fight takes place atop the Eiffel Tower) sounds appealing, it must be noted that "Kong" is a production of the dreaded animation studio BKN, they of "Extreme Dinosaurs" and "Zorro: Generation Z" and "Skysurfer Strike Force." Par for the course for the studio, the animation is terrible, the characters are no-dimensional bags of cartoon cliché, and the action is limp, smothered in bad comedy and redundant storytelling. By the time the series wraps up with the inevitable Chiros mega-showdown, we're not so much thrilled that we're finally getting to the long-awaited climax as we are that we're finally done watching such a cheap, tiresome mess.
Not surprisingly, the studio resurrected "Kong" in 2005, hoping to ride the coattails of Peter Jackson's big budget "King Kong" remake. In addition to basic cable reruns of the series, BKN also churned out "Kong: King of Atlantis," a direct-to-video movie in which our heroes battle Queen Reptilla, who's hypnotized Kong into ruling her kingdom for reasons too stupid to explain here. Oh, and it's a musical, again for reasons too stupid to explain here. The film is not included in this box set (Warner Bros. retains the distribution rights), so we move on.
Undeterred by the awful reception granted "Atlantis" by both critics and fans, BKN pushed on to further their franchise, this time expanding into the world of horrible computer animation. The 2006 DTV effort "Kong: Return to the Jungle" trades in the hand-drawn look of the series for clumsy, low-rent CG work, and the result is a visual embarrassment. Characters now move in blocky, stilted chunks and are given random body language spasms - arms raising, fingers pointing, all out of sync with anything else that's happening on screen or via dialogue - that bring to mind someone's hyperactive first attempt at Xtranormal.
The story's not much better: a big game hunter and his robot army (!) capture all the prehistoric beasts of Kong Island - including the big purplish-blue guy himself - and haul them off to a hi-tech zoo in New York, but they escape, and you can pretty much figure it out from there.
Like "Atlantis," "Jungle" is inexplicably a musical, with overlong montage interludes featuring drippy songs about how awesome Kong is, and how lucky we are to have nature around us, that sort of thing. There's not a song in the batch that doesn't bring the picture to a screeching halt, but that's OK, since it means a brief reprieve from the dopey action and lousy dialogue. The shabby animation, however, remains inescapable.
In 2007, BKN and Image released the complete "Kong" series in two separate two-disc volumes; at the same time, they also bundled those discs with their "Return to the Jungle" DVD for a five-disc gift set. Those discs - both the separate releases and the gift set - have now been replaced by the newly minted "Kong: 5-Disc Collector's Box Set." (As mentioned above, "King of Atlantis" is absent here.) These appear to be simple reissues of the older discs; nothing new has been added outside of slightly revamped artwork.
The five discs are squeezed into a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray; the first four discs are placed in overlapping trays to maximize space. The edition provided to DVD Talk also includes a metal slipcover.
The forty half-hour episodes are presented in their intended order (which corrects a mix-up in the original broadcast, in which several key episodes aired out of order). They are:
Disc One: "The Return, Part 1," "The Return, Part 2," "Primal Power," "Dark Forces Rising," "The Giant Claw Robberies," "Dragon Fire," "Mistress of the Game," "Reborn," "The Infinity Stone," and Night of the Talons."
Disc Two: "Howling Jack," "The Hidden Fears," "The Sleeping City," "Top of the World," "Master of Souls," "Billy," "Enlil's Wrath," "Indian Summer," "Welcome to Ramone's," and "DNA Land."
Disc Three: "Curse of the Dragon," "Blue Star," "Renewal," "Chiros' Child," "The Aquanauts," "Cobra God," "Windingo," "Dangerous Melody," "Green Fear," and "Twilight of the Gods."
Disc Four: "Framed," "The Invisible Threat," "Sir James Alex Legacy," "Return to the Redwoods," "The 13th Stone," "Sacred Songs," "Quetzalcoatl," "Interview with a Monkey," "Lies," and "Apocalypse."
Disc Five is devoted entirely to "Kong: Return to the Jungle."
Video & Audio
Both the series and film are presented in their original 1.33:1 format, with quality transfers limited only by the problems inherent with the animation itself. Colors are decent and detail is crisp, although the sharpness only reveals how ugly the whole affair is. Who designed this mess?
The Dolby stereo soundtracks are equally clear, with dialogue and effects nicely balanced. The music - most notably the bass-heavy theme song - has some nice depth to it. No subtitles are provided.
Fans of the series - they have to be out there somewhere - will appreciate the option of getting the complete series for a low price; it's low enough to make up for the lack of extras. But fans are few, and the rest of you will have no problem promptly avoiding such an absolute flop of cartoon adventure. Skip It.