Mighty Joe Young (1949) starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Lora Lee Michel directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack Movie Review

Mighty Joe Young (1949)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Mighty Joe Young (1949) starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Lora Lee Michel

Might Joe Old

It's quite interesting when you read reviews of "Mighty Joe Young" as those who are not impressed with it often say it is inferior to "King Kong". The thing is that whilst "Mighty Joe Young" is made by the same team and has some similarities the most striking difference is that "Mighty Joe Young" aims to be a fun, feel good movie for the family. And it succeeds, as over 60 years later it is still entertaining with the skill of Willis H. O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen making the stop motion work a joy to watch.

After adopting a baby gorilla as a young girl, Jill Young (Terry Moore) has grown up in Africa with the gorilla she calls Joe as her friend. When entertainment impresario Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) arrives in Africa with a group of cowboys, including Gregg (Ben Johnson - Red Dawn) from Oklahoma, to round up wild animals to use in a new night club he sees Joe and fast talks Jill into agreeing to head to America with Joe to be his star act. Despite being a huge success Jill knows that America is not the place for her and Joe but Max won't let them leave and when some drunken customers manage to sneak alcohol to Joe it causes trouble as he goes on the rampage leading to the court ordering Joe to be put down as he is too dangerous.

Terry Moore in Mighty Joe Young (1949)

There are many great things about the original "Mighty Joe Young" but one of them is the simple storyline as this is a movie made for all the family and it never once becomes overly complicated. In fact the simplicity of it also means that it skips along at a great beat, never becoming dull because you are never far away from the next moment of stop motion action. There is also the fact that unlike "King Kong" "Mighty Joe Young" is more of a feel good movie which works for the intended audience, not just in the way the movie plays out but there is also plenty of humour, from Max O'Hara being over the top to the whole opening where the young Jill trades her father's torch for the baby gorilla.

But there is also of course the fact that "Mighty Joe Young" features plenty of stop motion work and over lays it with real footage combining the talents of Willis H. O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. Now I know some will say that Joe looks more like a cuddly bear than a huge gorilla but in truth it works because of who the movie is made for as an authentic, fierce looking gorilla would have been too scary. And to be honest there is so much stop motion work in "Mighty Joe Young" that you can't but help be impressed by the craftsmanship going on, be it the minute manipulations of the models or the mixing of real footage with stop motion footage.

Aside from the model of Joe, who is the star of the movie, Terry Moore as Jill turns in a pleasant performance, enthusiastic and bubbly which makes her nice but it is not the most memorable of characters. And that is in many ways what lets "Mighty Joe Young" down because the characters be it Ben Johnson as cowboy Gregg or Robert Armstrong as impresario Max O'Hara may be entertaining but they are not memorable.

What this all boils down to is that whilst over 60 years old "Might Joe Young" is still a fantastic movie with a nice storyline which works for all the family and features plenty of wonderful stop motion work. Young audiences may think it is all very dated and false but the skill and craft of Willis H. O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen is very clear to see and appreciate.