The Monkey King Review | A Forgettable and Uninspired Animated Adventure


Netflix has delivered some incredible animated movies recently, some of the decade’d best so far. Last year the streaming service released two Academy Award nominated movies with The Sea Beast and the Oscar-winning Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. This year, we can imagine that the same will be true for the streaming service, thanks to the hilarious, heart-wrenching, and simply fantastic animated flick, Nimona. With all those previous titles getting praise, it’s hard to imagine that Netflix and the creatives behind these animated movies will drop the ball any time soon. However, Netflix’s latest animated outing, The Monkey King fails to live up to the rest. However, it could still grab the attention of younger audiences.

The Monkey King is simply a forgettable animated flick that doesn’t offer enough to keep audiences engaged. There are plenty of other animated flicks to watch this year instead. The characters are pretty irritating, the story doesn’t present anything unique or original, and the majority of the humor, sadly falls flat.

That said, Netflix’s The Monkey King does have its saving graces. The animation was stunning, and the action was surprisingly fluid. Likewise, the voice cast is great, with the likes of Jimmy O. Yang, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, Hoon Lee, Stephanie Hsu, and BD Wong lending their voices to the film. While The Monkey King isn’t all bad, its poor script doesn’t present enough for audiences to check out Netflix’s latest animated flick.

A Timeless Tale You’ve Heard Before

From Anthony Stacchi, the director behind animated movies like Open Season and The Box-Trolls, comes a timeless tale that you have most likely heard before. The Monkey King follows a heroic monkey (Jimmy O. Yang) and his magical fighting stick (yes, really) as he goes on an epic quest for victory. Monkey must defeat over 100 demons and an eccentric water dragon in order to become immortal, and therefore granted the powers of a god.

Along the way, Monkey must battle his greatest foe of them all, his ego. Along the way, Monkey meets a selfless young village girl (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) who challenges his self-centered attitude, and shows him that even the smallest pebble can have a big effect on the world.

The film was written by Steve Bencich and Ron J. Fiedman, who both worked on animated classics like Brother Bear, Chicken Little, and Open Season, and also Rita Hsiao, who co-wrote the original Mulan and Toy Story 2. The film is a retelling of the classic Chinese tale, with enough new elements and story beats to keep this Netflix movie feeling original. The themes, like egotism and the search for self-fulfillment, have been done to death, however, wrapped in this classic Chinese tale and modernized, they work.

Surprisingly Great Action and Stunning Animation

The Monkey King on Netflix

Yes, as previously mentioned, The Monkey King is pretty forgettable, but that doesn’t mean it’s a wholly terrible animated flick. In fact, the animation is pretty gorgeous. The film’s aesthetic, fluidity, use of light and shadow, and character design feels like an authentic Chinese animated flick.

One of the movie’s more enjoyable and surprising aspects are its action sequences. It’s fast-paced, well-designed, and the choreography is stunning. Whether the Monkey King is fighting a giant water-dragon, a small fire-demon, a god, or a multiplying creature in the depths of hell, each fight is seamless, unique and incredibly fun. Thankfully, there are plenty of fights in the 90-minute run-time to keep audiences’ attention from veering off.

Related: The 25 Best Netflix Original Movies, Ranked

Relentless Pacing

The Monkey King on Netflix

Netflix’s The Monkey King clocks in at a tight 90-minute run time, and with the movie’s relentless pacing, it certainly does fly by. It’s refreshing to have a movie with a 90-minute run-time instead of the bloated blockbusters we’re used to seeing now.

That said, we don’t spend alot of time with the characters, and any character growth or development feels cheap and unwarranted. To some this may not be a massive criticism, as mostly the movie is for young kids, but for those looking for a more complete animated feature, we’d recommend something with more depth.

Something for the Kids

The Monkey King on Netflix

Animated films typically get a bad shtick. Many label any and every animated movie as a “kids movie” regardless of it’s messaging, themes, and comedy, forcing many adults to steer away from some great animated films. Sadly, The Monkey King doesn’t help, and could have done more to offer a more elevated experience not just for kids.

The humor will land for kids, but will make adults roll their eyes with its stupidity. The characters are obnoxiously infuriating, with the majority just being over-the-top caricatures, and there is one lackluster and incredibly strange musical number that really doesn’t work. Perhaps if the movie had more likable characters, humor that wasn’t just the cheapest of slapstick, and had a somewhat slower pace, there could have been a great-animated feature in here for all ages.

Related: The Best Pixar Movies that Adults Will Enjoy, Ranked

Lack of Magic

The Monkey King on Netflix

At the end of the day, The Monkey King lacks any semblance of charm and magic. There is simply no whimsy or heart to this movie, and when you have a main character like Monkey, it’s not hard to see why. Monkey is such an unlikable and annoying protagonist. He is selfish, arrogant, and by waving his magic stick around that grants magical abilities, he thinks he is the most powerful being on the planet. Although he does learn the errors of his ways, it’s never consequential enough to make his horrendous behavior forgivable.

The only character worth caring remotely about is the young village girl, who essentially sells her soul in order to grant her village the water needed to end their famine forever. In order for her wish to be granted, she must betray the Monkey King and steal his stick. With the Monkey King behind such a detestable character, we hope that she strips him from his powers.

The Monkey King is now streaming on Netflix.

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