The Lunar Year of 2016 is, according to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Monkey. From the time when the evolutionist Charles Darwin and his ilk argued that we evolved from prehistoric ape-like humanoids, we have always been fascinated by these creatures from the animal kingdom that is most humanlike in its social structure, behaviour and characteristics. Whether we called it apes, or chimpanzees or monkeys or gorillas, the simian species had made its mark in the myths and folklore of various cultures – from the Hindu epic Ramayana?s Hanuman to Sun Wukong from Wu Cheng?en?s 16th century novel Journey to the West; and even in the Mayan and Aztec legends. Often depicted in these stories and legends for its mischievous nature as well as for wisdom, resourcefulness, playfulness and fun-loving, I thought it?d be a great way to celebrate the Year of the Monkey by looking at how the various monkey characters from legends and literature had been brought to life in various media and gone on to become iconic imagery in mainstream pop culture.
12. Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls
There isn?t a villain quite like the former monkey lab assistant of Professor Utonium in all of cartoondom. One of the more powerful and successful archnemesis of the Powerpuff Girls, he is a geniius mastermind, so diabolical, and evil (like he always like to remind the Powerpuff Girls) yet surprisingly quite mild and good-mannered to the citizens of Townsville and even to the girls themselves when he is not scheming or up to no good. With his flowing cape, green skin, oversized brain and hilariously sardonic personality, Mojo Jojo may not be the most iconic monkey character, but he?s certainly one of the best monkey villains there is!
11. Jack the Monkey from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies
Known as the meanest, most rotten-tempered monkey in all of the Caribbean, Jack the monkey is a capuchin monkey who has travelled the seas more than any other monkey cared to do. A loyal pet of the dastardly Captain Hector Barbossa, we were first introduced to Jack when Barbossa told Captain Sparrow the monkey was named after him as a way of insult. The monkey?s antics was one of the highlights of the films; much beloved by fans who watched the series and was only one of four characters to have appeared in all four PoTC films. He even appeared in the games as well!
10. King Louie from Disney?s The Jungle Book
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21959904
First of three Walt Disney Animation?s monkey characters on this list, and arguably the most conniving one. Who can forget the catchy hip-swinging song-and-dance number in the 1967 animated film that belies a less-than-noble intention and the scat duet he did with the disguised Baloo? And all the orangutan wanted was to know the secret of the ?red fire? so he and the other monkeys can be ?like men?. Also, can?t wait to see Christopher Walken?s version of Louie in the upcoming live-action film!
9. Abu from Disney?s Aladdin
Also making it to this list from Walt Disney Animation studio is Abu, the main protagonist Aladdin?s loyal monkey sidekick. Appearing in all the Aladdin franchise – movie, books, games, and TV series – Abu is also probably my favourite one in this list, though he is not as popular and famous as the other fictional simian characters on this list. A cheeky, rubber-faced monkey who is dragged into the thick of the action no thanks to his bumbling master, and always becoming the unwilling victim to Genie?s various transformations. I could never stop laughing at his many hilarious transformations!
8. Son Goku from Dragon Ball and Gensoumaden Saiyuki
Yes, not one but two Son Gokus from two different anime/manga adaptaations from Japan! Spoilers ahead, so skip if you had never read or seen any of these before (how could you not??)
The first comes from the classic anime-manga Dragon Ball, which features a young Son Goku who transforms into a mean, giant, energy-blasting great ape whenever he stares at the full moon, while the other is one of the main characters in an epic, high-energy, bishounen (pretty boys) adaptation of the classic Journey to the West saga, although the Dragon Ball series also featured characters that are loosely based on the Journey to the West saga.
Although the great ape transformation only occur a few times throughout the original Dragon Ball series, it is a key plot device that indicates the origins of the young Goku. He would eventually lose his monkey-like tail when he becomes an adult, thus, preventing his transformation into the great ape forever, nevertheless, the great ape transformation occured a few more times in the subsequent Dragon Ball GT series when Goku got his tail back. We would also get to see the great ape transformation when arch-rival Vegeta first invaded Earth and battled Goku as his alien origins were revealed.
Son Goku from the second anime/manga series, Gensoumaden Saiyuki, is a little more interesting as his origins deviate from the original Journey to the West version. Goku in this series is a teenaged monkey youkai (demon) king that wields incredible power who joins three others on a mission from Buddha to halt the resurrection of the powerful Ox-Demon-King. First began as a manga in 1997, Saiyuki ran till 2002 and spawned multiple manga titles, anime adaptations and video games.
7. George from Curious George
The adorable African monkey is the protagonist in perhaps one of the world?s most loved children?s books series written by Margret Rey Hans Augusto Rey. Originally published in French in 1939, the exploits of the playful little monkey who couldn?t help but get into all sorts of trouble has been adapted into various languages and spawned a successful PBS-produced animated TV series, and an animated film in 2006 starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymoreamong other media.
6. Rafiki from Disney?s The Lion King
The old, eccentric but wise mandrill from Disney?s The Lion King makes it to this list simply because he is instantly recognisable and played an important role in Simba the lion?s ascendancy as the rightful heir to the throne of the Pride Lands. He also continues to appear in subsequent adaptations and other media, including theme park attractions and the video game Kingdom Hearts. The character is portrayed by a female actress though, when The Lion King was staged as a musical on Broadway.
5. Donkey Kong from the classic Donkey Kong video games
Which 80s and 90s kid have not played or even heard of Donkey Kong? One of Nintendo?s earliest creations, the game is credited for playing a vital role in firmly establishing the Japanese video games maker reputation and that of its creator the late great Shigeru Miyamoto. Donkey Kong is also the game which introduced Mario to the world, who eventually became Nintendo?s flagship character. In the original arcade game, Kong, a gorilla, in the games is faces off against Mario in an industrial setting in which he throws down barrels and fireballs in the hopes of preventing Mario from reaching the top platform and rescuing the Princess. However, the Donkey Kong I personally remembered playing very fondly was the second edition one released in 1994 called Donkey Kong Country which came out on the Super NES platform. Hours and hours of great fun I had with Kong and his family, facing off against a pack of vicious crocodiles and other animals in a jungle setting. And the classic version of the character was even featured as the big boss antagonist in last year?s Pixels, renewing much interest in the character in a new generation.
4. The simian cast from Planet of the Apes series
One of the most lucrative and successful film franchises of all time, the simians from movies that we came to know fondly originated from a French novel published in 1963 called La Plante des Singes (?Planet of the Apes? when translated) by The Bridge of River Kwai author Pierre Boulle. The plot of the classic movies in which a race of advanced, superior apes had dominated a distant planet and subdued the human society there that we know of today was changed quite a bit from Boulle?s original work, but nevertheless, the essence of the novel in warning humankind that intelligence is not a given and that one can regress to animal-like characteristics if lose it or take it for granted remained, although in the movies, elements reflecting the 60s such as the Cold War and nuclear warfare was written into the story by the Rod Serling, who gained fame for creating The Twilight Zone.
The first movie debuted in 1968, and starred screen legends Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison was a smashing success and spawned four sequels and two TV series. Tim Burton took a chance at remaking the original with disastrous consequences in 2001 before the latest reboot that introduced us to a new storyline inspired by real life chimps raised as humans and the advancement in genetic science as well as Caesar the chimpanzee, the catalyst of the ape revolt with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the summer of 2011, and then with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 before culminating in 2017 with War for the Planet of the Apes.
3. Hanuman from the Ramayana epic
In Hindu mythology, Hanuman is considered as an incarnation of the Hindu god Lord Shiva and an ardent devotee of the god Rama, and is himself a revered, benevolent deity. While there are several legends as to his origins, the most commonly accepted are the Hindu epics in which he featured prominently in, especially Ramayana. Described and depicted as a monkey, the text in Ramayana described his adventures in meeting Rama and participating in his war efforts against the demon king Ravana. I remember once watching an animated version of the Ramayana which Hanuman was portrayed as a giant white monkey being but I am not sure, as I couldn?t find it on video or Youtube. I had actually begun to wonder if I had actually dreamt it! With Ramayana being a very popular and important literary work, it?s not surprising then that the story and Hanuman has been adapted into various movies, TV series and animations as well as in various languages. The animated version one shown below on Youtube is my favourite one of all, and it closely resembles the white monkey Hanuman which I remembered watching in my childhood.
2. Sun Wukong from Journey to the West
A perennial favourite among TV and filmmakers, the story of Sun Wukong the Monkey King has been told and re-told on the big and small screen numerous times that each adaptation has become unique on its own, each with its own legion of fans and haters. A central character in Wu Cheng?en?s classic Buddhist fable that is now considered as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, the first screen adaptation is widely thought to be 1927’s silent movie called The Cave of the Silken Web with silent star Wu Wenchao in the role of the Monkey King.
Since then, Sun Wukong has been portrayed by Chinese screen legend Liu Xiao Ling Tong and Hong Kong stars Stephen Chow, Dicky Cheung, Donnie Yen and Jet Li and most recently, Aaron Kwok in The Monkey King 2. I remember watching the TVB drama series Journey to the West that had Dicky Cheung in the role of the Monkey King, and I still think he portrayed with such aplomb that to me, he was the best Monkey King ever, with the worst either Stephen Chow?s portrayal in1995’s A Chinese Odyssey or Donnie Yen?s take of the role in The Monkey King back in 2014.
Dicky Cheung as Sun Wukong in the 1996 TVB series Journey to the West. Source: journeytothewestgalaxy.blogspot.com
1. Kong from King Kong
Kong? the baddest, most iconic of all cinematic and literary apes of them all? first appeared in the 1933 film King Kong and since then, it has become one of the greatest movie icons of all time, spawning countless remakes, adaptations, and imitations in various media. Most often portrayed either as a rampaging monster or a misunderstood antihero, I don?t think any of us could forget that classic black and white image of Kong atop the Empire State building clutching the damsel in one hand and furiously swatting at the planes that?s trying to machine-gun him down. Peter Jackson?s 2005 remake was also quite breathless to me due to the much improved CGI and the tense action sequence in which Kong faced off against not one but TWO Tyrannosaurus Rexes! Now that?s an unforgettable monumental ape-ffort for Kong that truly solidifies his position as the baddest, most iconic and most unforgettable fictional simian character ever created!
So there you go, the 12 most iconic, recognisable monkey/ape characters from popular culture across the different media around the world, beloved by millions and will continue to be for many generations to come. Have I missed out on any that you think should be on this list? Share by leaving a comment below!
Wishing all readers a blessed Year of the Monkey! Be good and don?t be monkeying around, yeah?