Who doesn’t know the magic monkey who has often been adapted into films and television series? Now, one more version has been released. The Monkey King is an animated film directed by Anthony Stacchi, who has also worked on Open Season (2006) and The Box Trolls (2014). This Netflix release features the voices of comedians Jimmy O. Yang, Jolie Huang, Bowen Yang, Stephanie Tsu, and BD Wong. This 96-minute film is loosely adapted from the legendary Chinese story Journey to the West. Can this film carry the positive trend of animated films produced by Netflix like before?
A magical monkey (Yang) is born from a rock on a hilltop, which disturbs the comfort of the king of heaven. When the king was about to get rid of it, Buddha said that the monkey would later have a great destiny. The wild little monkey also tries to blend in with the group, but it brings disaster. Tempted to become a god and eternal life, he also trains hard to eradicate 100 demons to attract the attention of the heavenly world. He even stole the magic wand belonging to the water dragon king (Bowen Yang) to smooth out his intentions. He also met a little village girl named Lin (Huang) in his adventures. Who would have thought the monkey brought trouble to the world of humans and gods until, finally, the Buddha intervened?
This classic story of the monkey king is presented through colorful animation with a thick oriental style. The visualization of the setting for each segment is presented impressively through the unique realms of the gods, such as the world of hell and the realms of heaven with the nuances of clouds. The same goes for the characters, for example, the figure of the dragon king, which is presented in beautiful and enchanting detail.
Apart from the fantastic visual side, the element of humor also dominates, especially the figure of the main protagonist who cannot stay still for a second with his various chatter. The typical Western comedy dialogue style sometimes doesn’t fit the story’s tone. However, this is undoubtedly a matter of taste.
With a classic oriental story and unique and colorful visuals, The Monkey King provides refreshments for popular animated films, although not for the story’s substance. The story isn’t bad but lacks a solid universal message if you want to compete in an Oscar-level festival. The form of compromise with a Western touch slightly reduces the philosophy of the story, which has a noble value regarding the balance of the universe. At least for family viewing, The Monkey King is an entertaining spectacle.