Before you start snarling at even the idea of this list, let's get one thing straight: monkeys (and by monkeys, I mean all primates), dolphins, and dogs are perhaps mankind's most trustworthy friends, especially in the realm of the motion picture. Monkeys, with their emotion-emitting faces and human-like anatomy, make for some great slapstick moments. And, just like their human counterparts, they can be quite frightening. Imagine having to pull of a scary performance like the chimps in 28 Days Later, or always being remembered as the monkey that played "the host monkey" in Outbreak. Talk about typecasting from that point on! It's hard out there for a chimp.

Primates have been reliable characters on the silver screen since the golden age of Hollywood. As we gear up for the next big summer blockbuster, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, let's look at some of Hollywood's bravest primate friends!

10. Crystal, The Hangover Part II (2011)

A capuchin monkey, Crystal has actually appeared in over 20 motion pictures, but her turn as a drug dealing monkey in the disappointing The Hangover Part II was the scene-stealing character work we were all hoping for out of that film. It speaks highly of her acting abilities, and speaks lowly to the human actors involved. Her first film role came in the 1997 classic George of the Jungle. She's also appeared in Night at the Museum, Zookeeper, and We Bought a Zoo. She was also the center of controversy for The Hangover Part II after PETA found her smoking to be a little too realistic. Director Todd Phillips promised that she never held a lit cigarette on set, she's just that good of an actress.  

9. Curious George, Curious George (2006)

He was already a literary star after his hit book series, but the feature film, co-starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, made him a movie star. The curious little monkey is adorable and his adventures are what kids' dreams are made of. The film boasted a best-selling soundtrack featuring new Jack Johnson tunes (adults with zero children were picking up copies) and the film spawned a hit children's TV series. It was a minor box office success, garnering over $68 million in international box office, and has led to a steady home video profit. Curious George has cemented himself as a classic character in most regards. Not bad for a little monkey, right?

8. Spike, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)

While the sequel isn't as memorable as the original Ace Ventura film, Spike's sidekick role is one of primate dreams. The story follows Ace Ventura, a pet detective, in case you were unaware, played to his absolute slapstick best annoyinest by Jim Carrey, as he scours Africa for a mystical white bat named Shikaka. Carrey plays the screen to the delight of 90s audiences everywhere (the sequel was a seminal hit when released in 1995), but it's Spike who stole each scene he was in in both the first Ace Ventura and the sequel. For making it as Jim Carrey's sidekick in the 90s heyday of rubberface comedy, Spike completely deserves a spot on this list. Does anyone really remember anything else from this film? Alrighty then.

7. Sieg Heil, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of Hollywood's great films. Lucky for Harrison Ford that he's been able to appear in both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. And, lucky for the monkey who played Sieg Heil, a leading animal role in Indy's best film. While stories have since been released stating the monkey was somewhat of a diva on set, the performance turned in is award-worthy. From a Nazi salute to a (spoiler) death scene, there's a lot of emotional material here that is impressive when you realize it's a monkey delivering the performance. And, to be able to pull off that performance in such a revered film deserves even more kudos for the capuchin (I'm beginning to think that capuchins were born for the silver screen).
6. King Louie, The Jungle Book (1967)

Louis Prima voiced the funkadelic ape most famous for singing the hit song "I Wan'na Be Like You" in Disney's The Jungle Book. The character doesn't show up in Rudyard Kipling's classic piece of literature and, in fact, orangutans are not even native to India, where the film is set, but Disney can do whatever they want, right? Due to the film's popularity (maybe?) Louie has had a long life of fame in the primate world. He's appeared in the hit TV animated series "TaleSpin" as well as other Disney projects here and there. His "relatives" show up in later entertainment pieces after a legal dispute between Prima's widowed wife. Another fun fact, Disney originally wanted Louis Armstrong to voice the character, but were afraid of the ramifications of casting an African American in the role of an ape.
5. Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

I tried to weigh back and forth between the chimps of the original Planet of the Apes franchise or the reboot, but I had to go with the newer films. Besides just the incredible motion capture effects that take the newer chimps to an even scarier reality, Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar is one for the history books. It's a shame the Academy doesn't consider "animated" performances for Oscars (same goes for Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo). Caesar is a badass of a chimp. He's special beyond just the effects that bring him to life. He's is infected with a virus (thanks to his mom) that allows him a further intelligence than ever thought possible for animals. From his days as an unruly, but smart, teenager, to his defyingly awesome moment when we hear him speak, Caesar makes Ape Kingdom seem like a possibility for the future.

4. Abu, Aladdin (1992)

Being a kleptomaniac is generally seen as a bad thing, unless you're Aladdin and his trusty best friend, Abu. Stealing is a way of life, especially when you're a street rat. Oh, riff raff. While there's no moral goodness out of being a thief, Abu makes it look cute and adorable. He's also the type of sidekick everyone hopes for. He likes good food. He'll have your back (most of the time). He'll probably influence you to some bad choices. He'll get jealous of you once you find a girl. And, he'll even put up his fists when trouble comes along. Abu sticks by Aladdin's side, no matter what (even when a genie turns him into an elephant), and enjoys the benefits immensely. You've never had a friend like Abu. Like King Louie, the monkey has enjoyed his own brushes with fame. He actually appeared in early Aladdin stories in folklore before his Disney stint brought him fame. He's since shown up in two sequels, a TV series, and even the Kingdom Hearts video game.
3. Clyde, Every Which Way But Loose (1978)

Say what you will about the film and about Clint Eastwood playing in an offbeat comedy (critics hated the film, but audiences spent millions seeing it), but there's no denying the film industry impact of Manis the orangutan's performance as Clyde in Every Which Way But Loose. While this film would be Manis' only claim to fame (he grew too large to appear in the sequel), he enjoyed a steady career as a Las Vegas showman. As far as appearing with Eastwood on screen, Clyde turned out to be the film's high point, especially among critics. His perfect timing and exceptional emotional abilities garnered him much deserved praise from his co-stars. The film surprisingly became one of Eastwood's highest grossing films ever. In the western honky tonk bars and desert truck stops, a star was indeed born.
2. Flying Monkeys, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

While we weren't really given their back story, the Flying Monkeys from the Hollywood classic are one of a bajillion references literally everyone knows. Seriously. If you say "flying monkey" to anyone, they'll immediately know what you're talking about. The creepy little guys have suffered living in the shadow of the evil Wicked Witch of the West and they, sadly, never see any type of redemption. They will forever live in history being linked to Her Greenness. I guess, sharing the screen with such iconic characters as Judy Garland's Dorothy isn't too bad, though. They're also honored with one of the coolest moments in the Broadway hit Wicked. Family-friendly stories often feature characters weird or strange enough to really stick with you (ask anyone who saw the 1985 Return to Oz and they'll tell you how terrifying the roller skate men were to them as children). They had one job and they did it well, even if was to rip the Scarecrow to shreds.  

1. King Kong, King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005)

Equally as iconic as the Flying Monkeys, King Kong is probably as famous as any actor from Hollywood's golden age. His climb to the top of the Empire State Building in the 1933 King Kong film is one of Hollywood's classic scenes. His later materialization in Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) is one part respect to the legendary character, and equal parts a great, epic romance. It's a modern day Beauty and the Beast. Kong himself is a victim to his size. His gorilla looks are nothing to snark at, but his human-like emotions are inescapably sincere and heartbreaking. Each film's elusive damsel-in-distress (played by Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, and Naomi Watts) eclipses beauty and becomes the only vice to lure Kong to do what the humans want. When the loving feelings are mutual between beauty and beast, the stories move to their respective high points, literally and figuratively. The 1933 and 2005 versions meet Kong on top of the Empire State Building. The 1976 version uses the more modern World Trade Center. Kong is fierce. His story is unbelievably real. His demise is what takes a simple love story and catapults it to legendary status. "It was beauty killed the beast."

No comments: