Netflix’s Monkey King: A Modern Take on an Ancient Tale

Netflix’s “The Monkey King” is an animated feature that brings to life the 16th-century Chinese novel “Journey to the West”. The film is about a stick-wielding monkey who teams up with a young girl on an epic quest for immortality, battling demons, dragons, gods — and his own ego — along the way¹.

The titular character, voiced by Jimmy O. Yang, is portrayed as a modern antihero. He is a selfish, arrogant jerk from the beginning, fighting for acceptance and displaying an anti-authoritarian attitude². Accompanying him on his journey is a young village girl named Lin, voiced by Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, who challenges his selfishness².

The film’s unique style is inspired by the textures of Chinese brush paintings and ink on paper². The magical fighting stick, a key element in the original tale, is transformed into a character in this adaptation².

“The Monkey King” was released on Netflix on August 18³. It’s an action-packed family comedy that modernizes and animates a Chinese folktale with a heroic jerk and a magical fighting stick².


The film has received mixed reviews from critics. According to Mashable¹, the film’s take on the story is aimed more at younger viewers. However, Roger Ebert² criticized the film as “aggressively mediocre,” offering “too little humor, heart, or action to entertain all but the youngest in the family.” MSN³ described it as a “frantic fable” that modifies ancient mythology into something vaguely familiar.

Despite these criticisms, there were some positive aspects highlighted by reviewers. The Guardian⁴ praised the film as a “lively Netflix animation” that revives an ancient Chinese classic. They particularly enjoyed Bowen Yang’s performance as the Dragon King, describing it as “spiteful” and “effete”.

In conclusion, “The Monkey King” offers a fresh take on an ancient tale with its unique animation style and modern characterization. However, its reception has been mixed, with some critics finding it lacking in humor and heart. Despite this, it remains an interesting addition to Netflix’s animated offerings.

(1) ‘The Monkey King’ review: Fantasy with a frustrating hero.
(2) The Monkey King movie review & film summary (2023) | Roger Ebert.
(3) ‘The Monkey King’ Review: Netflix’s Frenetic Animated Fable.
(4) The Monkey King review – lively Netflix animation revives ancient ….