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The 15 Best Monkeys in Pop Culture

September 14, 2012  |  10:23am
The 15 Best Monkeys in Pop Culture

Yesterday was a big day for primate fans, as scientists announced they’ve discovered a new species of monkey living in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Lesula, or Cercopithecus Lomamiensis, is only the second monkey species to be discovered in nearly 30 years. To celebrate our newest simian cousin, we’ve compiled a list of pop culture’s best monkeys. (Note: we’re using the term “monkeys” loosely—and frankly, incorrectly—here to mean “any non-human primate,” including chimps, apes and gorillas. Sorry. “The 15 Best Non-Human Primates in Pop Culture” doesn’t exactly make for a punchy headline.)

15. Chim Chim, Speed Racer
Chim Chim and Speed Racer’s kid brother Spritle provide the comic relief on this classic cartoon. Their relationship is a strong (if not a little bizarre) one; they’re essentially joined at the hip, and they consistently rock matching outfits as they plot new, wacky ways to get their hands on some candy.

14. Moon-Watcher, 2001: A Space Odyssey
This clever ape represents the evolution of man as he picks up a bone and learns to use it as a weapon to club his prey in this iconic opening scene.

13. Jack, Pirates of the Caribbean
Who needs a parrot, anyway? Captain Barbossa swaps out the more traditional squawker for a monkey in the Pirates movies. And Jack’s not to be trifled with—he’s undead, just like his owner.

12. Grape Ape, The Great Grape Ape Show
He’s a giant purple gorilla with a limited vocabulary and a heart of gold. What more do you need in a Saturday morning cartoon?

11. Abu, Aladdin
Abu is sort of like Aladdin’s version of a Greek chorus, constantly pulling faces and reacting to the action and occasionally uttering a word here or there in a Donald Duck-style voice. Can you blame him? He’s got a lot to deal with, like being turned into an elephant against his will.

10. Lancelot Link, Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp
The ‘70s were a strange time, and perhaps there’s no better evidence than the existence of this spy TV series, which features trained chimpanzees acting out all the parts as humans overdub their voices. Imagine Get Smart with talking apes and more musical numbers.

9. Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong
Just as without monkeys there would be no man, DK’s responsible for some videogame evolution of his own. Mario first appeared in a Donkey Kong game.

8. Rafiki, The Lion King
This wise, old mandrill voiced by Robert Guillaume doles out advice about the circle of life pretty regularly in this Disney classic, but perhaps his most dramatic moment is hoisting Simba up on Pride Rock for all to see.

7. Clyde, Every Which Way But Loose
Long before he was talking to chairs, Clint Eastwood shared scenes with another non-human: a giant orangutan named Clyde. The movie itself is campy and—until recently—a contender for Eastwood’s weirdest career move, but Clyde steals every scene he’s in, macking on his owner’s mom and delivering right-hooks to villains like an action star.

6. The flying monkeys, The Wizard of Oz
What’s cooler than a monkey? Oh, I dunno. How about an army of winged monkeys who do all your evil bidding?

5. Curious George, Curious George
This inquisitive little guy is one of the most enduring children’s book characters of all time; the first Curious George story was penned by Hans and Margret Ray in 1939.

4. King Louie, The Jungle Book
King Louie (Louie Prima) is the swingin’-est swinger, the jungle VIP. He’s a hep cat—er, ape—who just wants to learn how to make fire, presumably so he can set the jungle ablaze and seize power. Is that really so much to ask, Mowgli?

3. The cast of Planet of the Apes
It’s impossible to choose a favorite from this sci-fi classic. All the characters make us contemplate our own humanity as they cage, study and stuff our fellow man and remind us that we’re not as different from the animals as we’d like to think.

2. Marcel, Friends
All good things must come to an end, and Marcel’s time on Friends was no exception. Everyone’s favorite “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”-obsessed Capuchin monkey got donated to a zoo by Ross after he began humping everything in sight. Later Ross finds out that Marcel was stolen from the zoo and is starring in a movie. Marcel acts like a total snob in the end; the only way to get his attention is to sing his favorite song one last time.

1. Kong, King Kong
Giant gorilla monsters need love too, and Kong’s tale is ultimately one of heartbreak. He’s willing to go to the end of the earth for Ann, scaling the Empire State Building, but in the end “it was Beauty killed the Beast.” It’s a story so affecting, the 1933 original has been remade twice—once in 1976 and most recently by Peter Jackson in 2005.

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