Netflix gets in on the monkey business with The Monkey King, the supernatural animated comedy that is dominating the charts. Directed by Open Season co-director Anthony Stacchi and based on the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, this supernatural animated comedy explores the legend of the Monkey King in a humorous and frenetic manner. Judging by the stats to date, the audience can’t get enough of Monkey and this colourful, exciting world, either.
The Monkey King tells the story of the rebellious Monkey (Jimmy O. Yang) and his magic staff as he battles 100 demons and vies to become an immortal god. Of course, there’s an obstacle standing his way, as he needs to contend with the dastardly Dragon King (Bowen Yang) and his goons, who plot and scheme to get their grubby paws on the staff. Monkey’s quest takes him all the way to Hell and the Heavens, while he also builds a complicated but heartfelt friendship with a human girl named Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport).
Why did no one know about The Monkey King?
Surprisingly, The Monkey King didn’t receive a lot of promotion or hype from Netflix in the lead-up to its debut on the streaming service on August 18, 2023. While the platform has released a number of incredible animated films, such as The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Nimona, this feature caught many viewers off guard when it appeared out of seemingly nowhere.
Nonetheless, the movie captures the feverish and chaotic nature of the ’90s animated features with its razor-sharp cuts, fast-paced storyline, and larger-than-life lovable characters bursting with oodles of personality and attitude. In addition, the music slithers its way in, with numerous songs becoming pure earworms by the end of the film. To perfectly sum it up: It’s the lovechild of classic Disney and DreamWorks Animation.
Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) serves as an executive producer on The Monkey King. Anthony Stacchi explained to A.frame how Chow’s influence played a pivotal part in the movie. “A lot of the inspiration for the film’s energy, frankly, came from working with Stephen Chow and looking at the tone of his movies, which can be very surreal,” Stacchi said. “You know, just when you think you’re in a gangster movie from the 1930s, he’ll throw a musical sequence at you, and then you’ll find yourself with a whole bunch of characters in a tiny village who all happen to be kung fu masters and you’re suddenly in a period epic that also feels like a soap opera at the same time.”
Critics are mixed about it, but viewers are tuning in
On Rotten Tomatoes, The Monkey King holds a divisive score among reviewers. Currently, it sits on a 57% critical approval rating; however, its audience score is far higher at 74%. Ironically, the biggest criticism centres on how it appears to be designed for children, first and foremost, when it’s clear that’s exactly how the movie positions itself, but let’s digress.
In the end, The Monkey King swats away all the criticism to dominate the Netflix charts. According to the official Netflix Top 10 chart for the period 13 – 20 August, the film is the number two movie in the world, only behind Heart of Stone. The stats state the movie has been viewed over 8 million times and 13 million hours in that week. It’s remarkable considering how The Pope’s Exorcist, starring Russell Crowe, also debuted in the same week in major territories. Still, it has been viewed 2 million hours less than The Monkey King.
With the sheer number of shows and films being released every week across different streaming platforms, it’s easy to miss gems that deserve more love. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case for The Monkey King. It might not have been positioned as a prime release for Netflix, but this supernatural animated comedy brings smiles and viewers to the platform.