Back in the ’80s and early ‘90s, animated adaptations of video games were all the rage. Most gamers are familiar with the somewhat-warped American interpretations of beloved Nintendo franchises like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Legend of Zelda, and Captain N: The Game Master. Like any boom of licensing cash-ins, this TV trend quietly died out as Nintendo lost its “captivating new phenomenon” status.
But somewhere in Canada, something sinister brewed.
Born in the Canadian wilds and rendered in mid-’90s CGI reminiscent of Beast Wars: Transformers or Reboot, Donkey Kong Country remains a mostly-forgotten oddity to North American audiences. Even in its prime, the production hardly caught on with the Nintendo fan base: premiering on French television stations in 1996, the show failed to appear in the US until nearly a year afterward.
When DK and his jungle pals did hit American soil, they did so via Fox’s Fox Kids block, which hosted some of the era’s biggest kids’ shows at the time: Power Rangers, Goosebumps, and Beast Wars. Donkey Kong Country failed to become such a staple. It also failed to last three weeks on the network; after airing two episodes, Fox banished the show to its burgeoning sister channel, Fox Family (now known as ABC Family). Donkey Kong Country would remain there, quietly fulfilling its run of forty episodes over two seasons, before completing disappearing from American airways, not resurfacing until a 2014 DVD release.
Due to this show’s short run and lack of success in the US, it was easy to miss this part of Donkey Kong history. So, what exactly is it?
Well, it’s certainly something. Here’s the intro. Take a look and decide whether it’s catchy or inane; I certainly can’t.
You okay, Donk?
Oh, but because you can never have too many Kongs, the show conjured up some new characters, too. There’s Bluster Kong, the mustachioed(!) ape who owns the barrel factory where Candy is forced to toil away her hours while Donkey Kong gorges on bananas…
…and Baby Kong, who looks like he belongs in Bloodborne.
The show places these characters (along with King K. Rool, who alternates between just kind of hanging out with the Kongs and trying to destroy their society) on Kongo Bongo Island, a jungle paradise with an interesting system of government: a magical crystal coconut constantly displays the face of Kongo Bongo’s imminent ruler.
In this episode, the island sinks beneath the sea.
The episodes themselves are pretty standard fare, with plots including “DK gets amnesia” and “DK tries have lunch with Candy and watch a movie with Diddy at the same time.” From a modern viewpoint, the animation very difficult to watch: the characters never stop moving, even when standing still, resulting in unnervingly twitchy limbs and flapping jaws. Having little video game characterization to draw from, the writers cast DK as a boneheaded surfer bro, Diddy as the quintessential tag-along sidekick, and Candy as a woman.
But there’s one essential element that elevates Donkey Kong Country from “mediocre game adaptation” to “wait wait what what what am I looking at wait.”
Let’s set the scene.
We’re halfway through Kong for a Day, an episode in which King K. Rool turns Donkey Kong’s friends against him by framing him for a series of inconsiderate island pranks involving bananas. In response, Diddy and Cranky order that DK be banished to the snowy mountains where he will starve to death in isolation. After Funky Kong flies DK to said mountains of horror and throws him out of a plane, this happens:
It’s also worth noting that, like many other pieces of media America has long forgotten, this show was a huge hit in Japan. In addition to a collectible card game based on the series, Japan received 13 VHS releases (compared to a single tape in the US) and a bevy of additional merchandise.
Pictured: The card game, complete with a Donkey Kong 64 expansion
Is the series worth checking out? Well, it’s not very funny, it’s not very original, and it’s not very memorable. But the show remains such an oddity in the franchise, so out-of-place tonally within the franchise, that checking out at least one episode is definitely recommended. And now that Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze have revitalized the Kong franchise, maybe it’s time for this show to be revived by Netflix. We’d love to see Candy belt out some Taylor Swift while Diddy joins popular boy band Kong Direction.
If you want to check out this monkey madness for yourself, the complete first season is available via Amazon. Also, the entire series has been uploaded to YouTube, so there’s that.
Jonathan Persinger is a fiction/pop culture writer living in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter to see more things he’s written with his hands. He loves websites.