It took them sixteen years, but they finally made a real sequel to the original King Kong. Okay, Mighty Joe Young is not technically a sequel to the 1933 classic, but they definitely share the same DNA. Like Kong, Joe Young was produced by Merian C. Cooper and directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack from a screenplay by Ruth Rose. Stop motion animation pioneer Willis H. O’Brien is still around, supervising his young protégé, Ray Harryhausen. From the cast, Robert Armstrong is back as nightclub owner Max O’Hara, who has a lot more ideas than sense. While he’s not playing Carl Denham, it’s easy to imagine O’Hara as Denham still living under an assumed name to evade the lawsuits stemming from the problems he had with the last big ape he ran into.
O’Hara discovers Joe Young, a huge mountain gorilla, while on safari to capture lions for his Africa-themed night club back in New York (think Rainforest Cafe for the night life crowd). Joe is the pet/guardian of Jill Young (Terry Moore), the owner of a large ranch. O’Hara offers to bring Joe back to headline the new night club. Robert Armstrong, bringing a giant ape back to New York in a Cooper/Schoedsack production? This can’t end well.
In reality, Mighty Joe Young is a much different film from Kong, mostly a comedy about an innocent abroad than a monster on the loose. The titular character is shown as a heroic protector, not a destructive force. Even when some drunken patrons of the night club sneak into Joe’s cage and get him drunk, provoking a rampage that destroys the club, Joe shields the people from the lions set loose from the cages.
It’s not quite the ground breaking classic that Kong was. The technology used to create Joe Young is slightly evolved from what was used in 1933, but basically unchanged. The story itself doesn’t have nearly the same emotional impact as Kong, but for what Mighty Joe Young tries to be, it succeeds quite well. Unlike the woefully misfired Son of Kong, this movie definitely gives the audience what it paid to see.