Top 10 Movie Apes

Today is a momentous day, that shall be noted and celebrated in the history books for years to come. For today, you see, marks the return of my oh-so-popular Top 10 lists, which I intend to churn out on a weekly basis, and tie in to the most recent Lambcast’s topic, for as long as I am able to.

This week, to coincide with the podcast devoted to the original Planet of the Apes franchise (which can be listened to here), I’m counting down my Top 10 Movie Apes:

Honourable mention: Limbo, Planet of the Apes (2001)Chilled

Apes and monkeys are a familiar feature in movies. This is most likely due to their close resemblance in both size and appearance to humans – apparently we’re somewhat closely related – meaning that in the days before CGI they were relatively easy to depict, by simply sticking a guy in a gorilla costume. Also, real life ones are more really trained than most other animals so when a man-in-a-monkey-suit didn’t do it for you, in many instances a primate could be taught or trained to do the tasks available. For my honourable mention there are a lot of possibilities, from 28 Days Later‘s Rage-infected disease spreaders to the Jackie Chan voiced martial artist in Kung Fu Panda, but instead I’ve opted for Limbo, potentially the only good element of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake.Limbo I re-watched the film for the podcast, which is something I never intend to do again, because frankly it’s not a very good film. The plot jumps around all over the place, interesting characters are sidelined or killed off, there’s a bizarre and frankly implausible love triangle and an ending that defies logic and reason, but two things it has going for it are tremendous prosthetics and phenomenal acting performances beneath them. In my memory, Tim Roth’s General Thade was the stand-out, but now my memory has been stirred I can see he over-acts every second he is on screen, permanently glowering and furious at everything, including one scene in which he’s supposed to be seductive! The always dependable Giamatti however offers some much needed comic relief as the cowardly orang-utan slave owner Limbo.

10. Jack, The Pirates of the CaribbeanJack

The sequels to the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie have watered down the memory of the original, which should not be forgotten about. It’s a tremendously fun action movie, and it’s the closest we’ve had to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a long time. High praise, I know, but it’s full of well drawn, memorable characters, action scenes, a great story and it’s actually funny. Plus, and this should not be underestimated in terms of its audience appeal, it’s got a frickin’ zombie monkey. An undead, pirate monkey. Do I need to explain further as to why it makes the list?

9. The Flying Monkeys, The Wizard of OzFlying

I think a lot of people would probably place these iconic evil minions higher, but at present I’ve only seen The Wizard of Oz once, last year in fact, and I was disappointed by how little screen time the flying monkeys were given, especially due to how infamous they have become in popular culture. That being said, you cannot deny that level of notoriety, hence why the evil winged simians are on the list. They at least lead to one of my favourite moments in the film where, once they’ve attacked the Scarecrow and left him strewn around the scene, he complains “First they took my legs off and they threw them over there! Then they took my chest out and they threw it over there!”, to which the Tin Man responds: “Well, that’s you all over!” Love it.

8. The Gorilla, Trading PlacesTrading

I can’t believe I’ve never put Trading Places on a Top 10 list before. Then again, I’ve never compiled my Top 10 evil bosses, fake disabled characters or scenes where someone smuggles salmon in a Santa costume, so I’ve only got myself to blame. The ape here plays a minor role in the film, knocking out Beeks (Paul Gleason) at a pivotal moment in the film, but the reason he’s on the list is the implied gorilla sexy fun-times he has with Beeks once the man is placed in a gorilla costume and locked into the same cage. Gleason always seems to play these weaselly, snivelling bastard characters, and it’s always fun to watch them receive their comeuppance. This is possibly the most memorable way in which one of his characters is taught a lesson.

7. Nazi Monkey, Raiders of the Lost ArkRaiders

Technically this is really a joint spot shared with Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty, all of which use small monkeys for comic relief, but if any of those films deserve a place on this list, or any list for that matter, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s a few evil monkeys on this list, but this could be the worst one, because she’s a Nazi. Or at least, she’s capable of giving the Nazi salute, which I’m hoping isn’t something commonly taught to apes, and this was a generic reaction of raising the paw that merely appears sinister in context.

6. Peter, JumanjiJumanji

I love Jumanji. Or at least, I’ve seen it a hundred times, and familiarity has bred content, not contempt. If you’re unfamiliar, the story sees a magic board game capable of unleashing wild animals, sucking people into a fictional jungle and, as becomes clear when Peter (Bradley Pierce) attempts to cheat in order to bring the game to an early end, is able to transform someone into a monkey, complete with furry face and a goddamn tail. Fortunately, Peter is able to use his transformation to his advantage, and he gets turned back into a boy again in the end, so that’s OK.

5. Abu,  AladdinAbu

Abu goes through quite a lot throughout the course of Aladdin, and there’s a debate as to whether the more traumatic event is being transformed into an elephant or a toy monkey. Personally I go with the toy, as I’m not even sure if he’s alive in there. As mute Disney sidekicks go, Abu could well be my favourite, with the possible exception of the footstool/dog in Beauty and the Beast and Sven the reindeer in Frozen.

4. The Monkey,  Toy Story 3Toy Story

It may have been several months since my last Top 10, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost the ability to shoehorn either Jurassic Park or the Toy Story franchise into any and every List. Alas, to my knowledge none of the Jurassic Park movies featured any primates, but Toy Story did, and he’s awesome. The cymbal-crashing, eye-bulging, perma-shrieking watch-chimp is the eyes and ears of Sunnyside Nursery, and the main obstacle Buzz, Woody and the gang must overcome in order to escape. His crowning moment is a fight between himself, Woody and Slinky Dog as they all race to grab a microphone, with which the monkey aims to alert the rest of the Sunnyside team. The monkey is a screaming ball of rage who puts up one hell of a fight, and it’s one of my favourite moments in the film.

3. King Louie, The Jungle Bookmaxresdefault

As much as I love Abu, the definitive Disney ape has got to be The Jungle Book‘s King Louie. He’s a far more complex character, with his intense jealousy of mankind and their ability to create and use fire – or “man’s read flower” as he calls it. Plus, he has an awesome song, that is going to be stuck in my head for days.

2. Zira & Cornelius, Escape from the Planet of the ApesEscape

A little over a week ago I’d never heard of these two characters, played by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall for the first three movies in the Apes franchise (Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes), but now that I’ve seen the entire franchise they rocketed up my list. The performances given by Hunter and McDowall are great throughout the series, with McDowall even going on to play another character in the following movies; Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but it is in Escape that I believe they did their best work. Zira and Cornelius are no longer supporting players, they are the leads now they’ve travelled back in time to an Earth before apes took over – seriously, this franchise is nuts plot-wise – and the characterisation given to the two apes is far more than I expected. Both actors are very expressive despite the thick layers of mask they are wearing, with McDowall offering especially emotive voice work, even when uttering a single “No” to express his disgust at a cigar.

1. Kong, King KongKong

Really, who else was it going to be? Kong is the ape of all apes. However, and this may come as a bit of a sting, I’ve only seen the Peter Jackson version from 2005. I’ve got both the 1933 and 1976 versions on DVD, but have never seen either properly (I fuzzily remember seeing the 1933 version once, but have no recollection of the film). However, and here’s the thing, I really, really love the Peter Jackson version. Yes, it’s overlong, takes a little too long to get to Skull Island and Jack Black is horribly, hideously mis-cast as Carl Denham, but the scenes between Naomie Watts’ Ann Darrow and Andy Serkis’ Kong are tender and moving in a manner that elevates what would otherwise be just an epic action movie. Had the scenes been removed, however, we’d still have an amazing adventure movie, with scenes like Kong vs dinosaurs and crewmen vs giant bugs. Kong himself is a brilliant portrayal by Serkis, seen here getting his practice in before playing Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He is utterly and totally believable as the giant gorilla, with a roar that’s downright terrifying. Plus, the ice-skating scene is just heartbreaking.

11 thoughts on “Top 10 Movie Apes

  1. Technically this is a list of movie primates as monkeys are not apes, which I believe is brought up in the Tim Burton version at least. And while this movie overall isn’t all that great, I did like the ape assistant in Cloudy 2 with an ape’s brain inside a human’s brain inside an ape’s body or something like that.

    • You’re right, it’s definitely primates, and in the Tim Burton version they describe monkeys as being the evolutionary step between humans and apes. I wasn’t that keen on the orang-utan in Cloudy 2, but I’m very annoyed that I forgot Steve the monkey (as voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) from both Cloudy movies. Damn.

  2. Very cool list. Pleasantly surprised to see Abu make it. My only complaint is that Caesar from Rise… wasn’t included.

    I’d recommend checking out the original King Kong. Same story, far less time. He special fix are amazing for its era. Sure, they look terribly dated now, but they’ve held up better than lots of far younger movies. That said, I really enjoy Jackson’s version. All of the action stuff is great, but how he handles the relationship between Kong and the girl really makes the movie.

  3. Only ones missing for me would be Amy/the evil gorillas from Congo (although I don’t think you’ve seen that so it can slide) and Ella from Monkey Shines. What’s that, you haven’t seen Monkey Shines?! It’s a monkey horror written and directed by George Romero that you need to see ASAP. And if you have seen it, this fact still stands. Great list!

    P.S. My dad was terrified of the flying monkeys from Oz when he was a kid.

    P.P.S. The first time I saw Jackson’s Kong, I almost cried when we first see Kong’s lair and the bones of the other Kongs are laying about.

    • I thought you’d bring up Congo, alas I still haven’t seen it. Same for Monkey Shines, which I’ve heard more about and want to get to some time, just haven’t done it yet. It’s on one of my Lists, so I’ll get there some time.

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