Sunday, March 05, 2017

Nostalgia Theater: King Kong's Cartoon Chronicles!

With this coming week's impending release of Warner Bros.' monster pic Kong: Skull Island, which brings the iconic ape back to the big screen after eleven years, I thought I'd dive into this forgotten artifact from the Kong chronicles. From the moment the original feature film debuted in 1933, King Kong took up permanent residence in the public consciousness, and over the course of several decades of re-releases and TV broadcasts, he grew to hold a special appeal for children.

When you stop to think about it, the idea of a giant furry friend who's also a fearsome protector is pretty irresistible no matter what age you are, but especially when you're used to being puny and misunderstood. As such, it's easy to see why Rankin/Bass Productions (they of the evergreen Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special) brought the big gorilla to animation via a Saturday morning TV series that debuted on ABC in September of 1966. Here's the intro of The King Kong Show:

In an understandable decision, the Kong cartoon ignores the events of the film (especially the whole "dies at the end" part), and instead (as the song describes) has Kong befriending Bobby Bond, son of a scientist living on Mondo (not Skull) Island, where the ape protects the family from the various monsters and nasties populating the prehistoric terrain. Recurring villains include the diabolical Dr. Who (not to be confused with you-know-who), and the giant, robotic Mechani-Kong.

Despite (or because of?) the kiddie-fied premise, The King Kong Show was popular enough that aspects were repurposed by Japanese studio Toho (home of Godzilla, and producers of the 1962 throwdown pic King Kong vs. Godzilla) in their 1967 film King Kong Escapes, which had both Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong as baddies (as well as pretty terrible "guy in nappy gorilla suit" effects). Check out the trailer for this monstrosity, and see why I have such fond memories for the Dino De Laurentiis Kong remake nine years later:

Yeah, that's awful.

Anyway, each eighteen minute episode of the show would feature two six-minute Kong segments, with a six minute installment of fellow Rankin-Bass show Tom of T.H.U.M.B. sandwiched in the middle. The show lasted for twenty-five episodes over the course of three seasons, and remained a syndicated fixture for many years after leaving the air in 1968, even airing regularly in Saudi Arabia in the mid-'80s, where I first saw it.

Today, it's not really remembered beyond the select circle of Kong aficionados, and while I can't really recommend it based on its quality, it is interesting curio that bespeaks the very long pop culture footprint the giant ape has commanded for the many decades he's been around. If you're interested in checking the show out, a handful of episodes was released on two DVDs in fall of '05 (just before the Peter Jackson version hit theaters), and both are still available at a pretty decent price.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Pat Morita is Ohara

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Early Extinction of Dino Riders

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Pray for M.A.N.T.I.S.

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Hammerman -- Don't Touch This

Five Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Jumping Back to 21 Jump Street

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