[Series Review] SKULL ISLAND

Do you like kaiju? More specifically, are you a fan of Kong and itching for a fix? Look no further than the latest collaboration between Legendary Television, Netflix, and Powerhouse Animation in the animated adventure series, created, written, and executively produced by Brian Duffield, SKULL ISLAND. Featuring a wide array of creatures as well as expanding on the stories we know; this latest series has something for everyone. Well, it might be a tad bit bloody for the 5 and under crowd.

This eight-episode series starts off with a group of cryptid enthusiasts launching explosives off a ship. The purpose? To see if anything reacts. So far, it’s been a bust. That is until Annie (Mae Whitman) washes up alongside their ship. With quick thinking, the captain’s son Charlie (Nicolas Cantu) rescues her. Unfortunately, the explosives spark more than interest from something in the waters, and it destroys the ship and many of the shipmates.

This leads us to SKULL ISLAND. Charlie finds himself marooned on the island with his best friend, Mike (Darren Barnet). They quickly learn that this island is not what it seems. Monsters are everywhere and can look like anything. Annie quickly saves them, but the teens realize that the adults are nowhere nearby. With their own wits and survival instincts, they need to navigate the island and get back to the group alive.

SKULL ISLAND & the Human Element

Courtesy Netflix

The balance between the relationships of the characters with the grandiose otherworldly nature of the island is spot on. This balance is necessary for grounding things and maintaining that sense of humanity that oftentimes has felt missing in the recent Monsterverse live-action films. We see this balance in Annie’s relationship with Dog, but also in Kong’s relationship with the island inhabitants. While there are a great many monsters, there is also connection as well.

There is also the connection between our trio of teens. As Annie, Charlie, Mike, and Dog explore the island together, their bonds evolve naturally. The more things are thrown at them, the more they grow.

The strength of the voice acting helps further endear us to these characters. Mae Whitman is no stranger to voice acting, but her approach to Annie reminds us that this is a woman that has been left to fend for herself. She’s had only Dog by her side, so her confidence is earned. This shows the most in Whitman’s voice work.

Nicolas Cantu and Darren Barnet’s verbal sparring paint a convincing portrayal of longtime friends. Cantu tackles a wide range of emotions that astound, and you feel for Charlie as he volleys from mental self-preservation to frustration to rage within minutes. While Barnet’s Mike loses his strength throughout SKULL ISLAND, when Mike reaches a critical point, it’s impressive to see how Barnet captures the physical depletion in his voice.

A gateway into the Monsterverse

Courtesy Netflix

The plot moves at a steady pace while also introducing us to the island’s creatures. Ranging from absolutely frightening to oh-so-cute-I-wanna-squeeze, the team took great care in creating some truly unique critters. They also took the time to conceptualize the out-of-this-world nature of the island, from towering fauna to gaping canyons to Kong’s sacred space. No details were left unturned, and it creates a fully lived-in visual experience.

While Kong doesn’t take center stage for the entirety of SKULL ISLAND, the way he is integrated into the overall story is seamless. He is king, after all. This gives us time to get to know our characters, and subsequently, the heart of the series. But when Kong is shown, he is impressive and can’t be ignored. But he also can’t be deemed a monster. In the simplest ways, Duffield and his team remind us all that Kong cares more than the world is ready for.

As an introduction to the Monsterverse, SKULL ISLAND is a great gateway. While there are moments of blood, death, and bugs, the series will easily appeal to older kids and teens as well as adults. Using teenagers as the central characters helps give them an in into this world typically explored by adults. There are a great many monsters for everyone to fall in love with and images to spark the imagination. Most importantly, SKULL ISLAND reminds us of how important the connection between each other, human or not, can mean the world.

SKULL ISLAND is now on Netflix.

Sarah Musnicky
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