The animated Kong.


Original Medium: TV animation
Producer: Rankin/Bass
First Appeared: 1966
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In the late 1960s, the Saturday morning cartoons were getting more adventury, and more inclined toward the large and spectacular — but still inclined to include kid (or kid-like) characters for the audience to relate to, as Space Ghost

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… had Jan and Jace, and Frankenstein Jr. had Buzz. In fact, Frankenstein Jr. had a stronger similarity to this one, King Kong, than that. In both, the huge, powerful monster-like protagonist was under the direct control of the kid.

But it isn't likely either show was influenced by the other, since they came from different studios (Frank from Hanna-Barbera and Kong from Rankin/Bass) and networks (Frank from CBS and Kong from ABC), but their series debuted on the same day (September 10, 1966). Actually, both were based on the 1964 Japanese show Gigantor, which had first been seen in the U.S. in January of '66, in which a giant robot took its orders from a small boy.

That isn't its only Japanese connection. It was the first American cartoon animated in Japan, tho animé such as Astro Boy had preceded it on American TV. Rankin/Bass (which, by the way, was also responsible for Thundercats, Silverhawks and the animated version of Frosty the Snowman) had farmed out production to Toei Co. Ltd.

A third Japanese connection was King Kong Escapes (1967), a live-action Japanese movie (originally titled Kingukongu no gyakushu) that supposedly continued the scenario from this show. It even featured Dr. Who, the most frequently recurring of the show's villains (who, by the way, in the U.S. version, was voiced by Paul Frees, whose other villains include Boris Badenov).

The Rankin/Bass version of King Kong (no relation, by the way) had the same name and the same general form as that of the 1933 movie version, but otherwise wasn't at all similar. Here, the monster lived mostly in peace on Mondo Island. Professor Bond had set up residence on the island for research purposes, and had brought along his daughter, Susan, and son, Bobby. It was Bobby who formed a special friendship with the giant ape, and was allowed to boss it around. Together, they took on and defeated dinosaurs, mad scientists (including Dr. Who) and other varieties of super villain.

They did this for 20 episodes, which were broadcast over a two-year period. (They actually started as an hour-long prime-time special the Tuesday before the series debut, Sept. 6, tho that became two separate episodes in reruns.) Professor Bond's voice was Carl Banas (Old Tusk in Babar the Elephant). Susan's was Susan Conway (Dorothy in the 1964 Return to Oz). Bobby's was Billie Mae Richards (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Kong's animal noises weren't credited. The show had a second series in the back segment, Tom Thumb, a six-inch, trenchcoat-wearing spy working for a typical '60s initialed agency called T.H.U.M.B., which may or may not have had anything to do with inspiring Inch High, Private Eye.

After its two seasons were over, this version of King Kong was mostly forgotten, tho many episodes are currently available in home video. Kong: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox Kids Network in 2001, wasn't connected.


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Text ©2006-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Rankin/Bass.