Mighty Joe Young: A big-screen ape to put Kong to shame

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1998 The 15ft gorilla is “Mighty Joe Young.”

Kong, Caesar, and other big-screen apes have nothing on Mighty Joe Young.

We’ve certainly seen our share of apes onscreen. Of all the animals in movies, they seem to be some of the most prolific. However, they’re often enhanced in some way, such as making them gigantic a la King Kong. The technology used to bring these simians to life has certainly advanced over the years, but the best of all might be in a little film from 1998: Mighty Joe Young.

A remake of the 1949 film, this movie follows Jill Young and an abnormally large ape named Joe. Both orphaned as children, these two develop an unbreakable familial bond, always looking out for each other.

Sadly, when poachers encroach on the jungle, Jill reluctantly accepts help from Greg O’Hara, who works for a wildlife preserve and is enchanted by the unlikely pair. Now, Joe must cope with his entire world-changing, lost in a society that either won’t accept him or wants to kill him.

The film was a financial flop, earning lukewarm reviews and just $50.6 million on a budget a $90 million. Because of that, people generally forget about it, which is a shame. Not only is it a charming, heartfelt (if corny) tale, but the work and craft put into Joe himself deserves to be appreciated, as it’s well beyond the creature features of the time and even the ones today.

The master shows his might.


(Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

The reason that Joe is so convincing is because he was headed by makeup effects legend Rick Baker. He previously worked on the 1976 King Kong remake and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, both of which boasted a pretty admirable apes themselves. Here, however, he’s perfected the formula, using advanced puppeteering skills and a wealth of other techniques to bring Joe to life.

The whole film is like watching a master at work with his craft. What truly sets Joe apart from other cinematic simians, though, comes down to two major aspects.

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