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Erudite Orangutan

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He's smarter than your average simian!

I'm an ape. One of Chester V's most brilliant innovations: an orangutan with a human brain within my ape brain. Like a turducken.

The non-human great apes have various species-wide stereotypes associated with them. Gorillas are either gentle and harmless or brutish thugs, chimpanzees are often treated interchangeably with monkeys, and so are either smart, scary, or silly. Bonobos are usually lumped in with chimps in pop culture, but when they do appear as distinct species, they're noted mainly for their loose sexual behavior (No, seriously, this is well-observed).

And then there is the orangutan of western Indonesia note . Generally lacking the imposing stature of gorillas or the comedic aspects of chimps, most fictional portrayals of orangutans instead focus on their intelligence. In many modern depictions, orangutans are shown as being highly intelligent and wise, having much knowledge of the world around them, both material and mystical. This was born and still exists in the mythology of their native Sumatra and Borneo, which does revere orangutans as being such, to the point in some myths they're human ancestors. For those reasons, orangutans will also often be shown as intelligent by human standards.

If a story features multiple species of apes or primates and humans don't count as one of them, orangutans will probably land the role of The Smart Guy. However, unlike chimpanzees, which are also often portrayed as intelligent in fiction, they'll often be shown as calm and level-headed, rarely being a Mad Scientist or Evil Genius.

This is Truth in Television, as orangutans have demonstrated considerable hallmarks of what we'd consider intelligence, from crafting and using tools, using plants as medicine, self-recognition in mirrors, and advanced problem-solving. In fact, they are believed to rival chimpanzees as the smartest non-human primates. A specific real life orangutan that was known for being intelligent was Ken Allen, who was famous for figuring out how to escape from his zoo enclosures so that he could walk around and look at the other animals.

A Sister Trope to Gentle Gorilla. Opposite of Maniac Monkeys and Killer Gorilla. Subtrope of Intelligent Primate.


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  • An ad by Rainforest Protection Network shows a deaf girl conversing with an orangutan named Strawberry on Zoom in sign language. When she tells him that peanut butter is made from "peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt", he gets a solemn look, then signs "Your food is destroying my home".

    Anime & Manga 
  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Animal Planet has Doraemon and friends visiting a distant planet populated by sapient animals, their leader being Mayor Utan, a wise orangutan who cares dearly for his citizens. In the climatic battle when the heroes help the animals stave off an Alien Invasion, Utan spends the whole night praying for his people, and comes up with strategies on defeating the invaders.
  • Forever from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is an orangutan who gained human-level intelligence along with a Stand in the form of an entire ship that he controls with his mind. He solves a Rubik's Cube in two minutes and successfully pretends to be a normal animal to go beneath Team Joestar's notice. Forever is quite proud of his intelligence, and insulting it qualifies as his Berserk Button, so Jotaro exploits this to defeat the orangutan.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Cannonball Run II: A feisty orangutan that is capable of driving appears as a limo driver for one team.
  • The Jungle Book (2016): King Louie'snote  much more of a schemer here, trying to manipulate Mowgli into giving him fire.
  • Planet of the Apes
    • Orangutans are depicted as the leaders of the society in the original series of films, like Dr. Zaius, an intelligent and wise ape who mistrusts the human protagonist (named Ulysse in the book, Taylor in the films) and is among the few apes that knows about the planet's biggest secret that it was once inhabited by intelligent humans before they regressed into their current, animalistic state.
    • The fifth film in the original series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar's post-apocalyptic settlement includes a young orangutan named Dr. Virgil (portrayed by Paul Williams), who is good-hearted but a bit of an Insufferable Genius, and serves as Caesar's primary science advisor. There's also Mandemus, a philosophically-minded old orangutan who has been put in charge of the settlement's horde of guns and of "Caesar's conscience", since no guns can be taken from the armory — not even by Caesar — without Mandemus' permission. He is portrayed as probably the most patient and level-headed character in the film.
    • The reboot trilogy features Maurice, who's indeed quite intelligent even before being altered and is The Smart Guy of the tribe, acting as Caesar's advisor. He is a pretty overt expy of Virgil, especially in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is itself essentially a remake of Battle, though his name is an homage to actor Maurice Evans, who played Dr. Zaius.

  • Discworld: The Librarian of the Unseen University Library was turned into an orangutan in a mishap with a magical book. He actually prefers this to his human form, since long arms and prehensile feet are very useful for shelving books, and being an ape allows him to read texts that drive men mad, and resists any attempt to turn him back. He's very intelligent to the point he can communicate just by looks, or by the single word "Ook" and occasionally "Eek". But do not call him a monkey; he will be extremely offended, since he is erudite enough to know that orangutans are apes, and he will make it painfully clear.
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett tells the story of a rebellious man, Adam, who has been captured by a dystopic regime and is forced to interact with an intelligent robot, Art, who is made to look like an orangutan. While he only sees it as a machine, Art proves to be much smarter than it looks. Through elaborate planning, he manages to have humanity later obliterated and replaced by sentient robot orangutans.
  • The Mysterious Island has Jup (short for Jupiter), an orangutan whom the heroes capture and train as a butler.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The CBBC 2000 Edutainment show Clever Creatures took the format of a wildlife quiz with puppet animals as contestants. While most of the animals were reasonably clever and knowledgable, since the format required it, Adrian the Orangutan of the Rainforest Rovers had a scholarly personality.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The roleplaying game Apes Victorious by Goblinoid Games, which is greatly inspired by the older parts of the Planet of the Apes franchise, has the Orangutan as a class. In a variation, they are not the "scientist" class (which in this game is actually the Chimpanzee, obviously homaging Cornelius and Zira), but instead they are the politicians and clerics of Ape society (read: proficient at being Manipulative Bastard-types).
  • The Jokaero from Warhammer 40,000 look, sound and act almost exactly like orangutans, yet they are ridiculously intelligent technophiles that can upgrade or invent just about anything if they are provided the proper resources. However, because they operate almost entirely on instinct, whatever they create is meant to benefit themselves; either to ensure their survival or because it just "feels right."

    Video Games 
  • Donkey Kong:
    • Inverted in Donkey Kong Country. Manky Kongs are a race of evil, barrel-throwing orangutan enemies. They are described as "Kong reject orangutans," implying that they're cast out from the friendly Kongs, which are other types of primates, because of their feral behavior.
    • Inverted in Donkey Kong 64. Lanky Kong is the only Kong to resemble an orangutan, and while he is friendly, he is the most wacky and clownish of the Kongs. With how comical the Kongs are in general, it's saying a lot.
  • Pokémon has Oranguru, a Psychic-type (a type already known for its intelligence) that is noted by the Pokédex to only respect experienced trainers and is known to play the role of a trainer itself at times, giving commands to its fellow Pokémon in battle via its signature move Instruct.
  • In the Star Fox games, the villainous Emperor Andross seems to be an orangutan (bearing a striking resemblance to Dr. Zaius), making him a rare evil version of this trope. He is, however, portrayed as a brilliant Mad Scientist who has somehow transformed himself into a giant disembodied head and hands.

    Web Animation 
  • Happy Tree Friends: Buddhist Monkey has Sensei Orangutan, a flashback-only orangutan who was Buddhist Monkey's master in martial arts and capable of lighting a fire just by rubbing his fingers together, a skill Buddhist Monkey masters just in time to save his life against an assassin.
  • Played for Laughs in Joel Haver's video "Lanky Kong listens to DK Rap for the first time." Lanky Kong, an orangutan who is an inverted example in his home series, gets Adaptational Intelligence here, acting more like a normal, reasonable person. He is deeply insulted that his section in "The DK Rap" makes him look like an idiot while praising the other Kongs. Notably, he speaks perfect English, while Donkey Kong, a gorilla, speaks in ape sounds like all the Kongs do in the games. Lanky also mentions that he works in IT.

    Western Animation 
  • The Futurama episode "A Clockwork Origin" introduces Dr. Banjo, a hyper-intelligent orangutan who ironically believes in "Creaturism", a form of creationism, who debates with Professor Farnsworth about the origins of life and whether or not it came from evolution or creation by some higher power.
  • Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys: Dr. Splitz/Splitzy is the Space Monkey's resident mechanic and Smart Guy. Due to having a Split Personality he switches from being a stoic scientific genius to a mechanic with a Southern drawl. They need each other to function, as seen in one episode when they get split apart into separate bodies.
  • Wild Kratts: Orangutans are the subject of one episode where the intelligence of them is on full display, such as a mother using plants to heal her baby and teach him what to and what not to eat. Another, a large male Martin nicknamed Huge-O, borders on Nearly Normal Animal, where after seeing the crew get sore and can't move (It Makes Sense in Context), he tries to get the Kratts to get the plants and take them back to the crew, though his methods boil down to refusing to let them pass until they get a clue since he can't talk in any way. He later helps the brothers in stopping the bad guys from cutting down trees.