As expected, Joe is a big hit at the club opening, though Joe doesn’t understand fame, nor does he like the cage he lives in. As Joe becomes restless, his appeal begins to wain, and O’Hara has to find a new way to promote the mighty beast, like dress him as a hurdy-gurdy monkey. From here, things only get worse, and Joe and Jill find themselves in danger.
Seen through a 2021 lens, sure Mighty Joe Young has its problems from an animal activism angle. You could probably spot them solely from the story recap. Yet Ruth Rose’s story is one of great love for animals and nature. It may have been considered “woke” for 1949, for all I know. Flaws and all, the morality behind capturing animals, putting them in cages, and forcing them to perform for the rich, is challenged in Mighty Joe Young.
In terms of a giant creature movie, we see a remarkable evolution from Son of Kong. Joe is probably about 15- to 20-feet tall (as the scale was not exactly managed well). The film employs a plethora of camera tricks to show Joe interacting with the cast on a human scale. Scheodsack uses fast edits, split screens, and remarkable human and gorilla puppetry for the stop-motion animation.
“…the actual performance comes out of Joe’s highly articulated facial expressions.”
Any of the effects won’t fool you, but quite honestly, we still weren’t being fooled when those exact techniques were being used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the early stages of pre-production for Jurassic Park. Some effects are pretty amazing. When Joe is shaking, rattling, and overturning a lion cage, Joe and the cage are miniatures, but the lion in the cage is real, all the way to the point when the cage falls over (no lions were hurt in this sequence). Then there’s a game of tug-of-war between Joe and a dozen bodybuilders. Your eye is laser-focused on where the real rope begins and ends. Story-wise though, the tug-of-war should not get more challenging for Joe as fewer men are left tugging the war.
The real star of Mighty Joe Young is Joe himself. The puppet articulation is considerably more advanced from Son of Kong, and like Kong, the actual performance comes out of Joe’s highly articulated facial expressions. Sure, we’re never fooled into thinking Joe is a real gorilla, but we get an emotional performance nonetheless.
"…employs a plethora of camera tricks to show Joe interacting with the cast on a human scale."