Mighty Joe Young is Ray Harryhausen’s first proper movie, and goddamn does the stop motion animation look amazing. Big ol’ Joe the gorilla is expressive and nimble, interacting with props and sets and actors through lots of impressive camera trickery.
When this movie is leaning into its spectacle, it’s a bucket of fun. From the luscious faux-African vistas to the ritzy Hollywood show to the big fire rescue in the last ten minutes, the set pieces are phenomenal.
A shame, then, about… well, the rest of the stuff. The acting is rough other than cigar-chomping Robert Armstrong. Terry Moore as Joe’s owner brings little life to a flat part that most involves saying “Joe!” over and over in concerned tones; meanwhile, love interest Ben Johnson is stiff as a board and possibly hungover the whole film.
I could probably forgive all that, and the latent racism and animal endangerment, too. I could even hand wave away the shameless aping (heh) of King Kong. But then, just when the movie hits the third act and I’m thirsty for gorilla action, most of the entire last half hour is a big dumb chase that features almost no animation until the characters end up, out of the blue, at a burning orphanage, just in time for Joe to become the hero. Why make a giant monkey movie if you’re going to hide him in a covered truck for 20 minutes of your climax?
So, yeah, the movie is good when it does its thing, and frustrating when it doesn’t, which is too often.
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.