Donkey Kong Country: The Forgotten Nintendo Cartoon

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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.

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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.

As that banana-slamma (what?) sequence suggests, this show draws very loose inspiration from Rare’s Donkey Kong Country SNES series. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, Candy, and Cranky are all here, and boy, do they look like monsters.

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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…

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…and Baby Kong, who looks like he belongs in Bloodborne.

donkey kong, DK, tv show, canada, nintendo, donkey kong country, laser time

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.

donkey kong, DK, tv show, canada, nintendo, donkey kong country, laser time

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:

 So, yeah. Every episode of Donkey Kong Country inexplicably contains musical numbers — multiple musical numbers. They start without, and range from soulful ballads to peppy pop numbers to rock songs. If there’s anything you take away from this article, let it be this: this show features over 40 sequences of beloved Donkey Kong characters breaking out into song, and you can find them all on YouTube.

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.

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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.

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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.

20 thoughts on “Donkey Kong Country: The Forgotten Nintendo Cartoon

  1. Ah, yes. I remember it being shown on Teletoon (in their early days, when they’d throw anything on the air that was cheap to buy). I was amazed when I discovered that they were airing this…and sad when I realized how weird/bad it was.

    One correction, though: While it certainly was seen by more Canadians, the show was actually a French production, which helps explain the weird style and musical numbers.

  2. It’s always warming to know that the internet has ensured that this awful, awful show will live on forever in dong macros.

  3. I actually recently got my girlfriend the complete first season, which was released less than 3 months ago now I think. In 2014, they started releasing them as 4 episode DVDs which is ridiculous.

  4. This was considered bad? Damn, that’s crazy. I never watched the show but it was ALWAYS on TV. For some reason I thought it was supposed to be pretty good. Not sure where I got that from but I could have sworn that there was a bunch of articles on IGN or something praising the damn thing.

    Live and learn I guess.

  5. Adult Swim should get the license to air this show at midnight along side Xavier: Renegade Angel. Waking nightmare or just a bad trip? I’m half tempted to look the episodes on YouTube just to watch those amazing musical numbers.

  6. I vividly remember that some movie I had on VHS had a trailer for the movie Donkey Kong: Legend of the Crystal Coconut. I have no idea what the movie itself was though, but I know that even as a kid I was like ‘what the hell is this’

      1. that’s actually not that surprising, from what i remember of the trailer it definitely seemed like that kind of thing haha

  7. Oh sweet jebus I didn’t remember this until I clicked play on the intro video…and found myself humming along it it and singing along to the lyrics in my head. I remember watching this a lot as a stupid shit-headed Canadian kid and liking it…only, I hope, in a ‘wow-its-like-3D-man’ kind of way.

  8. I’m at least glad those studio musicians got a bit of work. I feel like they’d make good music if not written for a terrifying CG ape.

  9. I remember this show from visiting my grandparents in Michigan… because they would get Canadian channels, great for hockey, terrible for having this show in your memory.

  10. You’d think that the Donkey Kong Country cartoon would have more of a sense of adventure, something more along the lines of TaleSpin or Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers.

    I mean, the DKC games were about D.K. and friends striking out across a vast continent in search of their pilfered bounty of bananas and to rescue kidnapped relatives, not protecting an out-of-left-field crystal or stupid sitcom plots like this episode.

    Surely, they could’ve cranked out something with a little more swashbuckle than a second-rate Super Mario Bros. Super Show.

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