King Kong (1933)
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know about abundant violence, not only monster-on-monster fights (inevitably ending in death for one of the combatants), and also that many innocent bystanders are brutally killed, both in the jungle and in New York City. The natives (who are black) are portrayed as face-painted, bone-wearing tribesmen.
What's the story?
In this classic monster movie, showman Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) goes on a South Seas expedition to find the rumored beast "Kong," get it on film, and make a fortune. Along for the ride is actress Anne Darrow (Fay Wray), the pretty girl for his film. On Skull Island, they find natives protected by a huge wall from prehistoric monsters including Kong, a 50-foot-tall gorilla. The tribe kidnaps Anne and offers her as a sacrifice to Kong, who is smitten by the gorgeous blonde and runs off with her. After a long, action-packed chase, sailor (Bruce Cabot) and the ship's crew get Anne back safely to the ship. Denham manages to knock the monster unconscious with gas bombs and brings Kong, in chains, back to New York City. He exhibits "King" Kong in a Broadway-style setting, but Kong breaks loose and, following his jungle instinct, takes his beloved Anne to the highest ground in the metropolis -- the Empire State Building, for a classic climax with WWI-style fighter-biplanes.
Is it any good?
Though it was remade in 2005 by director Peter Jackson with all the modern talent and special effects of the 21st century, the 1933 King Kong moves at a lightning pace. While the stop-motion animation seems primitive, it's still very watchable. The savage Kong has a primal fury about him that makes him a real threat, even if his lovelorn looks to Anne turn him into a slightly more sympathetic monster.
The human characters are fairly one-dimensional by comparison. Anne screams a lot, famously so, faints, and that's about it for her womanly survival skills. Denham doesn't seem to have learned any lessons in the end. Modern black activists have denounced the old-school portrayal of face-painted, bone-wearing tribesmen, though Skull Island natives fight back against the rampaging gorilla-god, and a black baby is one of the few characters of any color snatched safely from beneath the primate's trampling feet.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how later generations of admirers read a lot of messages into this movie about civilization vs. the primal jungle, about the poignancy of the tropical ape-giant brought captive to modern Manhattan.
The old-fashioned point-of-view here doesn't seem to make any obvious objections to the brash white-hunter heroes and their not-very-scientific mission. You can ask kids if they think Kong is a sympathetic character who should have been left alone or a raging monster who had to be destroyed, and compare Kong to the genetically-engineered dinosaurs of the "Jurassic Park" series.