The New Legends of Monkey follows the journey of Tripitaka (Luciane Buchanan), a young monk who lives in a world of gods and demons. Seeking an answer to the evils of the world, Tripitaka releases the Monkey King (Chai Hanson), a powerful yet cocky god who has the potential to reset the balance of spiritual power in the world. Freed from his eternal prison, Monkey, Tripitaka and their team of misfit gods set out on a mission to collect lost scrolls of wisdom that will give them what they need to defeat their demonic enemies and restore their country to its former glory.
Inspired by the classic 16thCentury Chinese novel, Journey to the West, Legends has a classic feel with a child’s heart. As Monkey, Tripitaka and their crew venture into the wilderness, they find their wills tested in their encounters with the various demons that infect the land. They discover the true meaning of power lies within and are called to become better themselves along the way, wrestling with what it means to be pure of heart and people of character. Similar to other classic genre fare from the 90s like Xena: Warrior Princess or Hercules, the core of Legends is a hero’s journey with a heart of innocence. Despite the series’ emphasis on demons and gods, the series maintains a light-hearted tone of adventure and humor, targeting an audience of children between roughly 8-12 years of age. (Incidentally, the fact that this is children’s fare is important to note. Without this knowledge, adult viewers may become frustrated with the series’ simplistic tale. However, for a series targeting kids, Legends comes across as both entertaining and earnest in its storytelling.)
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this series is its clear lines between good and evil. Although characters are challenged to battle through their own personal struggles, the world in which they exist establishes quickly the difference between the two moral sides. We are told immediately that the land is overrun with ‘evil’ and infested by demons. There is a lack of ‘good’ in this world, and it is up to Tripitaka to find the gods that can correct it. While this has obvious spiritual implications that someone like myself generally finds appealing, I was actually even more interested in the fact that, in a world of moral grey areas, this series presents itself with definitive moral lines. The actions of each character stem from their nature. We know that the heroes are good because they sacrifice themselves for others, use wisdom and do what is best for all of creation. Villains are those that are self-seeking and desire power to oppress and control. Who they are establishes what they do. Even though ‘good’ has taken a pounding, it still keeps fighting for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. Personally, I found it refreshing to see this sort of world-building, especially in a show that knows its target audience is children.
In the end, The New Legends of Monkey may not be for everyone. (Let’s be serious: it has no such aspirations to be Netflix’s answer to Lord of the Rings.) Even so, its innocence, humour and heart of adventure make it relatively fun children’s entertainment that a family can enjoy together.
The New Legends of Monkey is now available on Netflix and ABC Me