The realm of animated films has been a playground of creativity and innovation, which always provides stories that captivate audiences young and old. Netflix’s “The Monkey King” is here to join the 2023 creative animated stories that span from the classic charm of the Super Mario Bros. Movie to the mind-bending brilliance of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Amidst this vibrant landscape, the recent arrival seeks to carve its place, weaving a chaotic yet balanced narrative that breathes new life into a beloved Chinese folktale.
Should we call it Mediocrity or Ambition?: The Monkey King’s Odyssey
Netflix, known for its diverse array of original content, ventures into the realm of Chinese folklore with “The Monkey King.” However, this animated endeavor falls short of the heights scaled by its predecessors in the genre. The narrative of “The Monkey King” appears hesitant to take risks, leaving behind a feeling of mediocrity that lingers throughout. A mere 96-minute escapade, the film struggles to offer the entertainment and engagement required to captivate its audience, save for the youngest viewers enchanted by the allure of vibrant visuals.
The legacy of Sun Wukong, the iconic Monkey King of Mandarin Chinese lore, has traversed generations through manga, television series, and cinematic adaptations. Notably, the esteemed Stephen Chow, acclaimed for his cinematic feats such as “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons,” lends his touch as an executive producer to this endeavor.
Yet, director Anthony Stacchi, successes with “Open Season”despite his past and “The Boxtrolls,” falters in infusing genuine cultural depth into the narrative. What unfolds is a tale lacking in cultural specificity, a generic hero’s journey that traverses realms from Hell to Heaven without truly resonating with its viewers. Despite its harmless animated escapades, “The Monkey King” falls short of honoring one of Chinese history’s most cherished legends.
The Monkey King (2023) mystery Unveiled: The Plot and Characters
Drawing from the foundations of Wu Cheng’en’s timeless 16th-century masterpiece “Journey to the West,” “The Monkey King” casts its spotlight on the titular character, brought to life by the spirited voicework of Jimmy O. Yang. The narrative unfurls in a world meticulously balanced by divine design, where chaos is an anomaly.
However, the Monkey King shatters the equilibrium, driven by his yearning for love and acceptance. Abandoned by his fellow monkeys, he embarks on a tumultuous quest to join the ranks of the Immortal Ones, beings embodying eternal existence.
The path to immortality requires confronting the malevolent Dragon King, masterfully voiced by Bowen Yang. This nefarious creature harbors intentions of unleashing a world-engulfing flood. Joined by the spirited Lin, voiced by Jolie Haong-Rappaport, the Monkey King embarks on a globetrotting journey fraught with challenges and revelations.
Lin’s fervent admiration for the Monkey King drives her desire to become his assistant, yet her motives harbor complexities that add depth to the narrative.
Amidst the chaos and confrontations, the Monkey King’s bravado conceals a poignant desire for companionship. Striving to mask his fear of loneliness, he crafts a facade of grandeur and ambition. Yet, beneath the veneer, he grapples with internal battles that transcend mere physical challenges.
The animation, characterized by its visual allure, captures the essence of each location, breathing life into the unfolding odyssey. The energetic performances of the voice cast further contribute to the film’s dynamic experience.
A Quest for Identity: Lessons and Evolution
Amidst the whimsy and adventures, “The Monkey King” eventually imparts profound life lessons. In its climactic moments, the presence of the Buddha sparks reflections on themes of peace, acceptance, and belief. The script, crafted by Ron J. Friedman, Stephen Bencich, and Rita Hsiao, serves as a catalyst for discussions on spirituality and self-discovery. However, these moments remain prompts, leaving a sense of untapped potential for deeper conversations.
Netflix has garnered acclaim for its foray into animation, showcasing gems like “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.” Lesser-known yet ambitious films like “Klaus” and “The Willoughbys” have underscored the streaming giant’s commitment to pushing creative boundaries. Hopes were high for “The Monkey King” to join this esteemed lineup as a surprise animated classic of 2023. Alas, the film falls short of attaining this honor, echoing with unfulfilled potential.
Conclusion: A New Spin on a Timeless Tale
As the credits roll on “The Monkey King,” it leaves behind a trail of mixed impressions. The vibrant animation, accompanied by a vivacious voice cast, brings this odyssey to life in visually appealing ways. The narrative’s internal struggles and emotional depth offer a fresh perspective on a character known to many. However, the film’s moments of brilliance are juxtaposed with narrative mediocrity and unexplored depths, leaving audiences with a sense of unfulfilled promise.
In the grand tapestry of animated cinema, “The Monkey King” earns its place as a noteworthy addition, albeit not without its shortcomings. As viewers continue to engage with the diverse landscape of animated storytelling, “The Monkey King” stands as a testament to the delicate balance between ambition and execution. While it may not ascend to the ranks of instant classics, it serves as a bridge to cultural narratives and a reminder of the power that animated storytelling holds.
As the year unfolds and more cinematic adventures grace our screens, “The Monkey King” remains a vibrant brushstroke in the canvas of animation, contributing its unique hues to the ever-evolving masterpiece of storytelling.
The Monkey King (2023) Top Cast
- Jimmy O. Yang – Monkey King (voice)
- Bowen Yang – Dragon King (voice)
- Jolie Hoang-Rappaport – Lin (voice)
- Jo Koy – Benbo (voice)
- Ron Yuan – Babbo (voice)
- Nan Li – Stick (voice)
- Andrew Pang – Mayor (voice)
- Stephanie Hsu – Mayor’s Wife (voice)
- Sophie Wu – Child Monkey (voice)
- Hoon Lee – Jade Emperor (voice)
- Andrew Kishino – Demon of Havoc (voice)
- Jodi Long – Wangmu (voice)
- BD Wong – Buddha (voice)
- Dee Bradley Baker – Baby Monkey King (voice)
- Robert Wu – Palace Minister (voice)
- David Chen – Sandy (voice) (credited as David Jordan Chen)
- James Sie – Elder Monkey (voice)
- Kieran Regan – Cage Baby Monkey (voice)
In Review: “The Monkey King”
Release Date: Available now on Netflix
Funembassy Verdict: A visually appealing yet uneven exploration of Chinese folk-tail, “The Monkey King” offers glimpses of brilliance amidst a backdrop of mediocrity. Its dynamic characters and cultural infusion serve as a gateway to deeper discussions, yet the film falls short of realizing its full potential as a modern animated classic.
Is it Worth your money and Time?: Yes, “The Monkey King” presents an entertaining and colorful escapade that breathes new life into an age-old Chinese tale, making it a worthwhile addition to the world of animation.
Director: Anthony Stacchi
Writers: Steve BencichRon J. FriedmanRita Hsiao
Voice over Stars: Jimmy O. YangBowen YangJolie Hoang-Rappaport