Superbly Subpar: The Best Worst Movies to Stream Featuring a Kid and a Primate
Welp, here we are again. Here to satisfy our strange urge to watch uniquely terrible movies that could only be fitting for this uniquely terrible year. Because, why? Oh, that’s right. Bad times call for bad movies.
This month we’re diving into a strange sub-genre of ‘90s family film. I’m of course referring to heartwarming films that star both a child and a primate (or a person in a primate costume). I’ll say right off the bat that I enjoyed these movies much more than I thought I would, and I do actually recommend watching them. I also hypothesize that all three of these movies played a large part in millennial children begging their parents for a pet monkey. So sit back and peel a banana, because this trio is a nostalgic trip. And, no, that was not a sexual innuendo.
Monkey Trouble (1994, HBO)
Monkey Trouble stars ’90s darling, Thora Birch, and none other than esteemed actor, Harvey Keitel. Keitel plays Azro, a creep who busks at Venice Beach with his Capuchin monkey, Fingers. Azro has taught Fingers to steal wallets and anything valuable from onlookers. He’s recruited by two mobster creeps to steal jewels from an estate sale, but Fingers gets away after an argument with Keitel and finds his way into the arms of adorable Eva (Birch) at the park. This is a day or so after he robs her parents of valuables, which was a dumb and unnecessary connection, but I digress. Eva loves the monkey (who she renames Dodger) and manages to successfully hide him from her parents until his stealing ways become apparent. This movie is silly, but I’m not kidding when I say that I recommend it, and here’s why: This monkey can ACT. He really can. I may be watching too many bad movies, but I think he (the monkey’s name is Finster) deserves an award. I mean, he holds his own in a dramatic scene with Harvey Keitel in which Keitel accuses him of being the reason that his wife and son left him. It’s ridiculous. Truly, it’s so, so stupid. Finster pretty much just screams the whole time, but his screams are believable, damnit. I’ll just go ahead and say it- he’s basically Monkey Brando. Bravo, lil Finster. You were a star.
Dunston Checks In (1996, HBO)
Get ready for some Monkey Trouble repeats, because Dunston Checks In clearly borrowed some plot devices from the formerly mentioned film. For starters, Dunston (played by charming orangutan, Sam) is a thief with a villainous owner (Rupert Everett) who’s taught him to steal. After getting in an altercation, in which Everett makes threats with a scary torture device of a cane (so upsetting), Sam escapes and finds a child who loves him. But this time, it all occurs in a fancy, New York hotel! And Jason Alexander, who must have been at the height of his fame, plays the stressed out hotel manager! And his son (Eric Lloyd, the kid from The Santa Clause) is the one who finds Dunston! Oh, and also Faye Dunaway and Paul Reubens are in this movie. Honestly, it’s a little bit baffling to me that so many big names were attached to these monkey movies, but I guess they were like, “Welp, if Keitel did it…”.
Like Finster, Sam the Orangutan is an impressive actor. I actually looked him up and found out that he hated bare feet and would chase anyone wearing sandals and spit at them. And that made me appreciate him just a little bit more.
Born to Be Wild (1995, HBO)
Not to be punny, but Born to Be Wild is the wild card of these three films for a few reasons. First off, the kid is a teenager this time. And his gorilla costar is played by various actors in gorilla suits rather than an actual primate. That’s probably for the best, because Katie the Gorilla is basically modeled after Koko the Gorilla, and is therefore required to be adept at sign language. She also has several scenes in a car, as Born to Be Wild is a coming-of-age road trip movie between a teen and an ape. So as dumb as gorilla suits are, it was simply the practical choice.
Basically, this movie starts out focusing on Rick (Wil Horneff), a little bitch of a teenager who’s too cool to even recycle. But when his scientist mom wants him to clean the cages of the gorilla she’s studying as a punishment for his latest petty crime, Rick discovers that he actually has a heart and bonds with Katie. When Katie’s owner (a less interesting Joe Exotic type) reclaims her and uses her for an animal attraction at a flea market (?), Rick decides to combine his love of being a rebel and his love for Katie and helps her escape. They then embark on an epic road trip towards Canada so that Katie can be free. And before you ask, the answer is yes; they do in fact listen to the song Born to Be Wild in the car.
There’s a scene in which Katie has to testify in court using sign language. And I really want to make fun of it. But… it kinda made me cry? I really have been watching too many bad movies. But that aside, I can’t fault Born to Be Wild for having a positive message against animal cruelty. Animal abusers can suck it, and that’s a mic drop.
Image: Duston Checks In, HBO Max