Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Movie review by
Ellen MacKay, Common Sense Media
Mighty Joe Young (1949) Movie Poster Image
More of a historic novelty than an action film.
  • NR
  • 1949
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
Violence & Scariness

An intoxicated Joe destroys a nightclub.

Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Night club patrons feed Joe liquor until he's drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that night club patrons feed the gorilla liquor and treat him cruelly, after which he goes on a rampage, destroying the club.

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What's the story?

Left to her own devices on her father's African homestead, Jill Young buys herself a pet baby gorilla. She names him Joe. Some 15 years later, an American nightclub impresario trespasses onto Jill's property in search of a new animal act. When Joe emerges from the woods to defend his mistress, a star is born. Joe is unsuited to life stateside. After drunken spectators feed him liquor and then provoke him, he tears apart the building. Only a clever escape plan saves him from a judge's death sentence. While fleeing the police, Joe stops in front of a burning orphanage. He saves the children trapped inside and proves what a hero he really is.

Is it any good?

While congenial, this tale about a girl and her ape lacks the excitement and the lively characters that kids have come to expect of animal adventure movies. Years after the phenomenal popularity of King Kong, RKO brought out MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, a film with a similar plot but a happier ending. It seems clunky by contemporary standards, but the special effects won an Oscar in 1949 and were considered the best feature of the film. Thus the story that ties together the many gorilla sequences is definitely second priority, and it shows.

The romance between Jill and Gregg (the lion-wrangling cowboy) is perfunctory, and the other characters will be indistinguishable to young viewers. Joe himself is more of an effect than a character. Only the most avid of young film fans will sit through this film. Kids accustomed to today's spectacular digital effects will roll their eyes at the stop motion animation that brings Joe to life. Unless your child is interested in witnessing early film technology at work, the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young is a better choice, and even includes cameos by 1949 veterans Terry Moore (Jill) and Ray Harryhausen (Joe's animator) during a fundraising scene. It is buoyed by a much more life-like Joe and strong performances by Charlize Theron (Jill) and Bill Paxton (Gregg).

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "monster movies." Is Joe a monster? Or is he simply ill-treated and misunderstood? Are there other so-called movie monsters who might fall into that category? What about Frankenstein? What message, if any, do you think the movie makers were trying to get across? Do monster movies often have messages?

Movie details

For kids who love classics

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