By Animation Magazine
August 17, 2023
This Friday, August 18, a classic Chinese antihero returns to screens in a new Western animated feature: Netflix original The Monkey King. This latest CG animated take follows Monkey King (voiced by Silicon Valley star Jimmy O. Yang), his magical Stick (Nan Li) and a young human girl (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) on a quest to defeat 100 demons, challenge the Dragon King and face his worst foe — his own ego.
Directed by Anthony Stacchi (The Boxtrolls, Open Season), produced by Peilin Chou (Over the Moon, Abominable) and executive produced by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) and animated by ReelFX, the movie also features the voices of Bowen Yang, Jo Koy, Jodi Long, BD Wong, Ron Yuan, Andrew Kishino, Sophie Wu, James Sie, Andrew Pang, Stephanie Hsu as Mayor’s Wife and Kuno Inghram.
Ahead of its official launch, The Monkey King has received a mostly positive response from critics, scoring 67% on Rotten Tomatoes from 15 reviews and 62 on MetaCritic from six reviews. The pic wins praise for being a high-energy retelling full of humor and martial arts action, though opinions on the retelling’s originality, the character’s emotional impact and the animated visuals are a bit mixed.
Read more of what critics are saying below:
“Despite recent budget cuts, Netflix’s in-house animation division continues to produce lively, interesting works … The latest in a 10,000-mile-long line of adaptations of Journey to the West, the 16th-century Chinese novel attributed to Wu Cheng’en, bounces along energetically, and has some exceptionally fun frills around the edges, such as a flouncy vocal performance from Bowen Yang as spiteful, effete baddie the Dragon King, who gets to sing the film’s best musical number.”
— Leslie Felperin, The Guardian
“[The Monkey King] mines rich source material for a widely accessible episodic adventure laced with rowdy martial arts clashes and fantastical detours. Even if its Americanization follows a standard template, the movie maintains a flavorful sprinkling of the material’s cultural specificity, its spiritual elements and its philosophical lessons about hubris and humility.”
— David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Between the strong message and relatable character journey at the heart, as well as the absolutely stunning animation that makes up the film, we are truly living in an unprecedented era for the medium. It is a joy to get the chance to experience new stories from a wider range of storytellers who just want the chance to share art that matters to them. Studios should not be afraid to try new things and new styles, especially when passion means it pays off this spectacularly.”
— Arezou Amin, Collider
“Plot-wise, The Monkey King covers a lot of ground; the title character and Lin seem to pursue a new goal every few minutes. But without connecting what he does back to who he is, how are we supposed to care? … There are pluses here, especially the playful choreography and composition of its action sequences. The heart of the problem is The Monkey King makes its central character, whose story has been told and retold for hundreds of years, uninteresting.”
— Alex Harrison, ScreenRant
Writers Steve Bencich and Rob J. Friedman are represented by the Gotham Group and attorney Rob Szymanski.