A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an origin story that's less sci-fi and more relationship drama, making it a surprisingly equal-opportunity choice for teens and parents. There's not much language, sexuality, or drinking, but the animal-human violence gets intense in the second half of the movie. Humans are afraid of the apes, so they shoot and poke them, and the threatened apes react defensively by smashing cars, throwing spears, pushing police officers off a bridge, and generally wreaking havoc on the Bay Area. There are a few pivotal death scenes for both species, but the movie's focus is less on the action and more on the nuanced question of how animals and humans can co-exist once there's no intelligence barrier.
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What's the story?
In RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Will (James Franco) is a pharmaceutical scientist who's discovered a breakthrough drug that could cure Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. But when his ace lab chimp, who has shown extreme intelligence from the experimental drug, goes berserk during an important meeting, the company boss (David Oyelowo) orders all of the lab animals put down and demands that Will start researching again, but when a hidden newborn chimp is found, Will reluctantly takes him home. Will's father (John Lithgow), who suffers from Alzheimer's, is instantly taken with the baby chimp, and soon Will realizes that "Caesar" has a higher IQ because of his in-utero exposure to the miracle drug. For eight years, Will gives his father smuggled doses of the drug, and they live with Caesar, who's now a precocious adolescent (and played, in a motion-capture performance, by Andy Serkis). After Caesar defends his family and bites a neighbor, Will is forced to surrender him to a primate shelter. Faced with his own kind for the first time, Caesar climbs the social ladder and eventually leads a climactic bid for freedom.
Is it any good?
This is an entertaining, well-acted origin story. Although some of its plot elements are similar to the fourth Planet of the Apes film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, this reimagining doesn't feature time travel or the widespread domestication of apes. The story is simple and, in this highly medicated culture, surprisingly easy to conceive: Medical experiments that alter animal development aren't a fantasy, they're reality. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is equal parts family drama and sci-fi-lite action, and the poignant, complicated relationship between Will, his ailing-then-improved father, and their beloved Caesar is a bona fide tearjerker in a couple of scenes. This is owed completely to the three actors: Franco, Lithgow, and Serkis, who deserves an Academy Award for his mastery of nuanced motion-capture performances.
The trio of main actors, with help from Oyelowo, who's perfectly smarmy as the profit-driven CEO, and Freida Pinto, who's a distractingly beautiful veterinarian, propels the film above the forgettable dross of raunchy comedies and formulaic remakes that fill theaters. And since they're known to chew up scenery, special mention must be made of Brian Cox and Tom Felton, both of whom are fabulous as an ambivalent primate-shelter owner and his sneering, sadistic bully of a son (Harry Potter fans may feel compelled to yell "Draco Malfoy!" at the screen). Despite all of the fine performances, there are a few missteps (like when the greedy businessman assumes that the apes will offer him mercy) but that really doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the film. The best part is that, unlike so many "first in a planned series" installments, this one feels complete at the end, with the final image and end credits alluding to how the apes finally rise to inherit the earth.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ongoing popularity of remaking classic older films. What are some series that have outdone their predecessors? Which originals should never have been reimagined? Is Rise of the Planet of the Apes a good addition to the series?
How does the violence in this movie compare to other action/sci-fi movies you've seen? Does the fact that it involves animals give it more or less impact?
Animals are usually depicted as our friends, but what do the apes want -- to rule the world, or just to be free from cages? How does the filmmaker portray Caesar and Will's relationship? Is Caesar a pet, a child, or something in between?
For those familiar with the Planet of the Apes series, how does this compare to the original storyline? Do the changes make sense, considering technological developments since the '70s? Do you think there should be more?
- In theaters: August 5, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 13, 2011
- Cast: Andrew Serkis, Freida Pinto, James Franco, Tom Felton
- Director: Rupert Wyatt
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense and frightening sequences of action and violence
- Last updated: March 16, 2020
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