La La Land (2016)

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Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film

2016 was a year of looking backward. Make something or other great again was the rallying cry of an awoken mass, clinging to rose-coloured visions of a past that they probably weren’t around for.

It seems like Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, was doing much the same thing. His film is a journey back through the decades to a time before the postmodern and the cool and the great second wave of deconstruction in 2002. Damien Chazelle watched Casablanca instead of Saturday morning cartoons, and then he made

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No paparazzi for this overlooked celeb

this film.

And it must have hit a nerve because it was huge. It was nearly the winner of the Oscar for the Best Picture – it was probably the closest any film has ever gotten to that spot without ever getting it, in a the most awkward way possible. I’m talking of course about when the crew behind the film got up on stage only to be informed that the wrong name had been read out.

So everyone was along for the ride down memory lane and casting Hollywood in this lovely nostalgic violet hue. For the most part, Chazelle and his lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone catch the past zeitgeist of the Hollywood hopeful and the story of actors and entertainers trying to fight their way onto the silver screen.

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The progression of the overlooked ape figures in Hollywood

But there were no monkeys. Again the story of the furrier end of the casting room queue have been left out of Hollywood’s history. We get all kinds of tributes to old past and dusty things like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and James Dean – but where is the fellow who played the original King Kong? Where is Bonzo? Where is the famed statue of Mighty Joe Young outside the La Brea Tar Pits?

Characters sing and dance down Sunset Boulevard, over the hands and feet of Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple. But where are the attempting opposable little hands of Crystal the Capuchin? She is the top of the monkey A-list but she hasn’t even had a little square outside of Mann’s Chinese Theatre set aside for her.

As you can tell the whole thing drives me bananas. Chazelle has made a fine film if you like watching people sing and dance and like watching strange beige coloured hairless primates balance precariously on two legs and wear clothing and eat foods other than those that we can forage from shrubs and trees – I could go on.

When will the day come when Hollywood will honour its monkey heritage. We will be there ready on that day.

The Hangover Part II (2011)

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Crystal the Capuchin as she appears in the film

Monkey status: There is a monkey prominently featured in this film

The second instalment of the Hangover trilogy, this film met huge success through copying by rote the exact script of the first movie and moving the events across the world to Bangkok.

The first film had a tiger in it, so it follows that they had to imitate this and have some kind of exotic side character lingering on the sidelines of Alan Garner’s antics. Monkey see, monkey do, after all – for this role they brought in the Meryl Streep of the monkey world, Crystal the Capuchin.

Crystal was born in 1994 in Florida. When she was just two years old, an animal trainer from Tinseltown showed up in her orphanage with lots of promises about the future. Before she was three years old, Crystal was working in animal shows at Universal Studios. She was given starring roles in the amusement park’s live shows and name taken from country singer Crystal Gayle. Truly a Horatio Alger story for the present day.

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Crystal at the premiere

We’ve already gone through some of her credits here on our American Pie review, but it remains to be said that Crystal is one of the most-recognisable non-human primate faces on the silver screen nowadays.

Her role in this film is up there. She appears across nine different scenes and has more lines than Justin Bartha. For the filming she was flown first class across the Pacific to Bangkok, where she visited a monkey sanctuary to which she had previously donated all of her earnings from Night at the Museum.

This role was in many ways a turn up for the books for both Crystal and all of monkey-kind. Although she was playing a comic foil in a big-budget Hollywood comedy and her part of the script mainly relied on pratfalls and physical gags, she leant a heavier pathos to the character by exploring its back-story and fleshing it out on set with the other actors.

Rumour has it that she developed a nicotine addiction after smoking in almost every scene she appeared in. Director Todd Phillips denied this to PETA, however the group were barred from set. This resulted in the film having its No animals were harmed during the making of this movie disclaimer revoked – we can make of that what we will.

Although it has not been publicised how much Crystal made in this picture, we have to wonder what else happened on set that caused PETA and the American Humane Association to kick up such a fuss about her treatment. But Crystal has kept her mouth shut, giving minimal interviews about her experience on set and seeming glib and dismissive during press junkets.

She appeared in this film alongside old friend Ken Jeong, with whom she had previously worked together on the NBC sitcom Community, where she played the character Annie’s Boobs. In an interview with USA Today, Ken Jeong was quoted as saying “She’s amazing. She’s not a monkey, she’s an actor. And quite possibly the best actor I’ve worked with.”

It is safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of Crystal the Capuchin. Although she declined a cameo in the third Hangover film, Todd Phillips has expressed a desire to work on a spin-off prequel detailing her ascent to the head of the Russian Mafia in Bangkok.

From her humble beginnings in Florida to her life in her Topanga Canyon Mansion, the story of Crystal is a point of aspiration for any young simian thespian.

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Crystal relaxing at her Topanga Valley Mansion

Jumanji (1995)

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Cartoon monkeys are stealing the jobs of hard-working, God-fearing monkey actors

Monkey status: Monkeys are featured in this film

This 1995 film from director Joe Johnston was a tale of a demonic board game opening a portal between some parallel dimension jungle world and a small New England town. Kind of a Stephen King meets Tarzan kind of riff looking back on it.

For people who were kids around this time, this film is looked back on pretty fondly. I can remember feeling terrified at the lion in the next room and the carnivorous plants, all pretty well-tread tropes of the ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ narrative wheelhouse.

One interesting thing going on here, however, is the way that monkeys are treated. Obviously, they appear pretty prominently in the film. It is unclear which species are depicted, as they appear in pretty shoddy mid-90s CGI.

We don’t know which country they come from, though the presence of rhinos and lions does suggest that they are meant to be of African origin. They have aesthetic similarities to Vervet monkeys of the sub-Saharan region – however they are significantly larger and more muscular.

But these monkeys are evil! That’s what set them apart from other monkeys of Hollywood. Normall they are friendly or at least comical. These monkeys are little villains, throwing knives at children and stealing police cars. They are agents of chaos from an evil jungle realm and as a little kid they scared the shit out of me.

But they look like cartoon characters. Everytime we see CG primates like this, we have to ask the question, where was Crystal the Capuchin? Where was Blake Vesuvius? Where were a host of other working actor-monkeys – these cartoon caricatures took the banana money right out of the pockets of their real and breathing co-monkeys.

Hollywood has to stop these CGI immigrants from taking the jobs of hard-working American monkey actors. As the cost of visual effects have decreased, it has become harder and harder for monkeys to make their way in the movie industry.

Take the story of Kari the Barbary Macaque – a young ape from Lima, Ohio, who spent the last of her savings on a cross-country Greyhound and two weeks in a YWCA in Burbank. One month later she was arrested for monkey prostitution in the carpark of a Taco Bell in Palmdale.

This story has been repeated too many times. What was once a thriving industry of working, journeymen ape stars has become a fight over a few scraps. Kari found no opportunities where they were once plentiful. She was dismayed by packed waiting rooms at auditions filled with young primates pinning all of their hopes and dreams on the last stop before skid row.

Industry leaders like Joe Johnston are responsible for sinking the dreams of these young hopefuls. And looking at his monkeys as they awkwardly grasp a shotgun in their uncanny valley borne hands, we can see an inferior product mired in its bygone time. Kari the Macaque could have made this film timeless.

Another monkey to look out for actually begins the movie human. As a punishment for trying to cheat in the eponymous board game, Peter, the youngest kid character, is cursed to turn into a monkey. Interestingly here, monkeys are again treated like they are little goblins or something.

The makeup crew seems to have taken a lot of cues from Michael J Fox’s Teen Wolf, and the end result is that the half-monkey half-boy seems a bit more canine than simian. However, we here at Is There a Monkey in it are willing to let that slide – the more monkey business, the better, and they did try.

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Peter, played by Bradley Pierce, reportedly got into character by living in the chimpanzee enclosure at San Diego Zoo for two weeks.

It should also be mentioned that this film features Robin Williams, who received before his sad and untimely death a ‘Jane Goodall Foundation Award for Generally Being a Good Mate to Lots of Primates’. Perhaps sensing an inter-species kinship due to their shared extreme hirsuteness, Williams was always close to his monkey co-stars. He can be seen in the following video hanging out with his buddy, Koko the talking gorilla.

We can only wonder what Williams thought of his CGI co-stars, and if he had any friends of his own that could have come in and done a better job. In the worlds of what ifs, this is one that keeps our editors-in-chimps up at night.

Because as we have learned through our investigations, the world of monkey cinema is often a bittersweet love letter to the what-could-have-been.

 

American Pie (1999)

Monkey status: There is one monkey in this movie

When American Pie arrived in theatres in 1999 it was heralded as the return of the teen sex comedy last seen with the likes of Porky’s and

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What’s my ape again?

other movies that your dad has seen. However what this film really is is an early break-out role for one of Hollywood’s best-loved simians, Crystal the Capuchin. Currently the highest-paid non-human primate in the industry, her credits are as impressive as they are varied. She smoked cigarettes in The Hangover Part 2. She was voiced by Adam Sandler in Zookeeper. But many forget that one of the first times we saw her she was also in pretty famous company.

In American Pie, Crystal is depicted hanging out with the members of Blink-182, who stop practising in order to watch a teenage boy come in his pants by spying on him through the internet. It is unclear whether Crystal is meant to be playing a member of the band here, but some bootleg recordings and unreleased b-sides from Enema of the State, the group’s third album, clearly feature some background monkey yelps, suggesting that Crystal’s role with the band was extensive. Perhaps she worked on the part in studio with them prior to filming. She has been known to delve into method acting in the past. On second thought those noises may just be the voice of Tom Delonge.

As always, Crystal shows herself to be the Meryl Streep of the Monkey world with her versatile and gripping rendition of a monkey watching a boy prematurely ejaculate through a computer screen. However I was unsure if the disgust she showed when she brought her hands to her face was intended to be a reaction to Jason Biggs or Mark Hoppus’s “Go trig boy, it’s your birthday.”

The film is also famous for the only recorded appearance of Travis Barker wearing a shirt.