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Intelligent Primate

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Giving "monkey business" a whole new meaning.

Monkeys and other primates are usually seen as humorous animals in fiction. However, since primates are well-known as some of the most intelligent animals next to dolphins and whales, another very common portrayal of primates is to show them as intelligent and civilized.

This can happen in many ways, depending on the work. Primates may be higher on the Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism than other animals. If they're not inherently anthropomorphic, they may show some Amplified Animal Aptitude or be a Nearly Normal Animal. If the setting is more of a World of Funny Animals, primates may be specifically depicted as some of the smartest, or more sophisticated. Monkeys and other primates are also a common subject in Uplifted Animal experiments, perhaps even undergoing an Anthropomorphic Transformation. Some intelligent monkeys might not entirely forgo the Silly Simian associations, likely being portrayed as something of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Similarly, an intelligent Mischief-Making Monkey may be good at outsmarting others. The Smart Guy could even have some sort of primate-inspired Animal Motif.

While intelligent monkeys may often be portrayed sympathetically, many are Maniac Monkeys — it is common to represent an intelligent monkey as an Evil Genius or Mad Scientist. Less seriously, an intelligent primate could be an Insufferable Genius who takes pride in being considered "smarter" than other animals. Monkeys and chimpanzees are the most likely to be portrayed this way; larger great apes, especially orangutans, are generally more likely to be portrayed as level-headed individuals. Primates are also likely to be portrayed as Genius Bruisers or Badass Bookworms, since real primates tend to be quite capable in a fight.

Of the primate species, lemurs are the least likely to be portrayed as having any notable intellect, but may sometimes be portrayed as a sort of Genius Ditz or are given the Smarter Than You Look treatment. Of the species of lemur, aye-ayes tend to be seen as the most intelligent ones, usually as wise and mysterious shaman-like figures. In real life, lemurs are actually about as intelligent as most other primates and have even been able to solve some problems that were too complicated for monkeys and apes. This portrayal likely comes from lemurs historically being considered a more primitive species in comparison to other primates.

This is Truth in Television; as previously mentioned, primates are some of the most intelligent animals in the world. Primates have strong cognition skills, and as a result are some of the few non-human animals known to use tools. Several primates in captivity have been able to solve complicated puzzles, and some have even been effectively taught how to use sign language to communicate, with Koko the gorilla being the most famous case. Some primates have also been taught a keyboard-based language called Yerkish. Capuchin monkeys in particular are noted for being the smartest type of New World monkey and roughly on par with some apes.

Please limit real-life examples to cases of individual primates known for being intelligent, rather than any general examples.

Super-Trope to Erudite Orangutan (add any orangutan examples to that page, rather than here). Compare Gentle Gorilla and Apes in Space. May overlap with Monkeys on a Typewriter, if the monkeys succeed at typing any coherent text. For other tropes about intelligent animals, see Brainy Pig, Wise Serpent, Cunning Like a Fox, Elephants Never Forget, The Owl-Knowing One, and Clever Crows.


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    Comic Books 
  • The DC Comics character Detective Chimp fell into the Fountain of Youth, which gave him super-human intelligence and the ability to talk to all living creatures. Even back when he was still Bobo the Chimp, he was considerably smarter than normal.
  • Recurring DC Comics villain Grodd is a superintelligent gorilla. He's a rogue member of an entire civilization of superintelligent gorillas with a secret Gorilla City in Darkest Africa.
  • In Angel and the Ape, Sam Simeon is an intelligent talking gorilla who assists detective Angel O'Day. In the original series, nobody ever remarks on the fact that he's the lone talking ape in a world of humans; a later retcon established that he's from the same race of superintelligent gorillas as Grodd.
  • King Solomon, a gorilla with human speech and British accent and mannerisms, is part of the supporting cast of Tom Strong.
  • The Umbrella Academy: As a result of Sir Reginald Hargreeves's "work in the cerebral advancement of the chimpanzee", monkeys are seen taking part in general society. Two notable examples are Dr. Phinneus Pogo, one of Hargreeves's assistants, and The Shivers, one of the major villains seen in You Look Like Death.

    Films — Animation 
  • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio: Spazzatura is a monkey who is shown to be rather smart at times, having been trained by Volpe to perform various tasks around the circus. It's even shown that he's able to speak whenever he controls the marionettes.
  • The Lion King: Rafiki is a mandrill who, while still a humorous character, is shown to also be a Bunny-Ears Lawyer and a wise mentor. In the first film, he helps Simba get over the death of his father Mufasa by teaching him that he can either run from his past or learn from it. The remake also gives Rafiki an Adaptational Seriousness treatment to emphasize his wisdom.
  • Madagascar:
    • Mason and Phil are two sophisticated chimpanzees. Mason has a stereotypical British accent, and while Phil doesn't speak, he is shown to communicate very well in sign language. Unlike Mason, Phil can also read, but Mason can still decipher Phil's sign language. As a result, they are the penguins' go-to translators.
    • Maurice the aye-aye is shown to be by far the smartest of the lemurs and is the only one to correctly decipher that Alex is a flesh-eater before he goes savage from hunger.
  • The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists features a young Charles Darwin, who has a pet monkey named Mr. Bobo that he taught how to communicate with words on signs.
  • Space Chimps: The chimps can't be understood by humans, but they're smart enough to know how to pilot a rocket ship.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: The Kongs are a race of gorillas and monkeys whose entire society revolves around Wacky Racing, with many of their tricked out and weaponized vehicles seemingly made from barrels.
  • Tarzan: Zigzagged. Gorillas are shown as sapient, and Terk even knows a few letters, but when they stumble across the camp where Jane, Clayton, and Professor Porter are staying, they don't perceive the human tools as anything more than musical instruments.
  • Toy Story 3: The Cymbal-Banging Monkey is portrayed as very observant while watching the security cameras of Sunnyside Daycare at night. If he recognizes that a toy is trying to escape, he immediately notifies Lotso by making lots of noise.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • George of the Jungle: Like the original cartoon, features Ape — an extremely intellectual, well-read, erudite gorilla who has effectively raised George. He mentions being personally acquainted with Jane Goodall, helps George understand his complex emotions, and outwits the poachers who want to sell him to the circus. As a bonus, he has an upper-class British accent courtesy of his voice actor, John Cleese.
  • Planet of the Apes: This entire franchise depicts evolved/mutated apes who are intelligent enough to speak to each other in intelligible ASL or English, and are capable of running their own society. The original also depicts them having religious beliefs, science, and politics.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Kong, already established capable of tool use uniquely amongst giant monsters, is revealed to be even smarter than MONARCH was expecting. Not only is he capable of speaking via American Sign Language, having learned it through observation of a deaf girl; but he later acquires a weapon to help put him on more even footing with more powerful kaiju like Godzilla. It's implied his species were nearing a civilization level of technology in the past with a Kong-sized temple, throne, and weaponry discovered in the Hollow Earth.

  • Sun Wukong in Journey to the West is the Handsome Monkey King of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, in the country of Aolai. His subjects are also monkeys, but none of them hatched from rocks or stole immortality from heaven. Within the novel's allegorical framework, in which the group of pilgrims each represent an aspect of human nature, Sun Wukong represents the Intellect.
  • Planet of the Apes takes place in a setting where highly-intelligent great apes are the dominant species of the world, and have taken over the human race.
  • Raymond Smullyan's What Is the Name of This Book? contains, among his many other Knights and Knaves variations, a story about his search for the island of Maya whose rulers are said to have discovered the reason there is something instead of nothing. The archipelago around Maya is inhabited by humans and monkeys, who are physically indistinguishable because monkeys politely keep their tails tucked in their robes. Since monkeys also act opposite of humans — monkey knights always lie, monkey knaves always tell the truth — this regularly gets in the way of Smullyan's quest.

    Mythology and Religion 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp is built upon chimpanzee agents Lancelot Link and Mata Hairi thwarting the various nefarious schemes of Baron Von Butcher, Doctor Strangemind, shiekh Ali Assa Seen, and other simian no-goodniks. Everyone is dressed in scaled-down clothes and can mimic human actions such as driving a vehicle and cracking a safe.
  • The Umbrella Academy: Just like in the comic book of the same name, Pogo is an uplifted and highly intelligent chimpanzee.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: In the special "Elmo's Potty Time", a large gorilla visits a city and he's smart enough to know how to cool himself using a plane's propellers and how to use a human toilet.

    Tabletop Games 
  • AT-43 has the Karmans, a race of sapient apes that was genetically engineered by the Therians as a labor and fighting force. Their military consists of Gorillas in Power Armor equipped with arm- and shoulder-mounted weapons, while supported by heavily armed Hover Bikes.
  • Mutants & Masterminds: Doctor Simian is a gorilla with super intelligence that gained the equivalent of multiple PhDs just by reading some books and has a maniacal streak a mile wide, making him an obvious Captain Ersatz of Grodd.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Jokaero are an alien species of technologically highly skilled Orangutans, capable of creating anything, from spaceships to extremely powerful miniaturized energy weaponry. Though the "intelligent" part is debated in-universe, as the Jokaero seem to act on instinct, with no discernible goals beyond their immediate survival, and appear to lack any sort of language or culture.

    Video Games 
  • In Black & White, the monkey is one of the three Creatures you can start the game with. It's of Neutral alignment by inclination (as opposed to the Good cow and Evil tiger), and has fairly average stats except for its intelligence, which is sky-high. This allows it to learn new skills and behaviours much more quickly, and is the preferred starting choice since you can swap to Creatures with better stats later once you've taken advantage of the monkey's brain to give the Creature its basic education. There's also a chimpanzee creature hidden on Land 3, which is even more intelligent than the normal monkey (which resembles an orangutan).
    • The monkey returns in the second game, again neutrally-aligned with high intelligence, making it the most flexible option.
  • In the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Funky Kong is a highly capable gorilla engineer who builds vehicles out of seemingly innocuous junk, such as a jet made from a barrel in the first game. In the sequel, Donkey Kong 64, he's switched to weapon-making, creating things like a shotgun made from a hollow log that fires coconuts and a crossbow that propels feathers with deadly accuracy.
  • Escape from Monkey Island has Jojo Jr. the only monkey capable of human speech, though talking to him suggests that the normal monkeys are smart enough to understand humans.
  • The Empire of Hands in Fallen London and Sunless Sea is the home of the Pentecost Apes, whose culture revolves around their desire to imitate humanity in every regard and are willing to beg, borrow, and steal human souls to do it. Something they did angered the British Admiralty enough to quarantine the archipelago (perhaps they simply found the resemblance unflattering); fortunately, their Creative Sterility prevents them from figuring out how to make their zeppelin fly. Oh, and while they're technically not apes, calling them "monkeys" in their presence is considered an ad hominoid attack.
  • Minion Masters: The Zen-Chi have a lot of intelligent monkeys that dress like East Asian monks.
  • Overwatch: One of the characters in the game is Winston, a gorilla who was genetically enhanced alongside other members of his species to be extremely intelligent. Not only has Winston built his own weapons and armor, he also created the chronal accelerator that Tracer uses to keep herself stable.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal: Skrunch, is a downplayed example. While Skrunch seems to act like an average primate most of the time, he is nonetheless shown to be capable of communication complex enough to hold conversations with Captain Qwark and Clank, even if it consists of monkey noises, as well as operating the gun turret on the back of a combat vehicle with remarkable skill.
  • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves: Dr. M is a mandrill who is a skilled scientist. Besides that, he's also well-versed in genetics and engineering.
  • Starbound has the Apex, a race of ape-like aliens who are known to be one of the most intelligent and scientifically-advanced races, their ships, buildings, and technology all having futuristic aesthetic. They used to be a race of hairless Human Aliens in the past, but, to combat virulent infestation, they had to undergo physical de-evolution into their current ape-like appearance, which also greatly increased their mental capacities.
  • Star Fox: Andross is an ape who is a Mad Scientist, and his unethical experiments are the reason he was exiled from his home planet. He's even been described as a "Scientific Genius".

  • Freefall eventually introduces Dr. Bowman, the inventor of the artificial neural structure that most of the cast uses to think with, a genius chimpanzee from one of the earliest uplifting experiments. He's an expert in his chosen field, but being an unproven prototype designed as a super soldier made from an asocial and aggressive primate species has made him something of a Reluctant Psycho (and left him the only long-term survivor of his original test group). He has extensive precautions in place to protect himself from his involuntary violent triggers, like eye contact, and to prevent himself from doing any damage when they're set off, and has an ongoing prank war between himself and his security guards which has led to multiple technological advancements. He's very proud when he's able to see the products of his research performing mental and social feats that he knows he's incapable of.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, it is shown that Earth engaged in large scale uplifting of most warm-blooded species to human-level intelligence, and that of course, monkeys and apes were on the list.
  • Sequential Art: The wicked Ice Queen has usurped the throne, and turned the kingdom into a wintry wonderland of misery. Her two best minions are a pair of nameless apes dressed in dinner jackets, shirts and bow ties (or possibly dickies). The two converse in perfect English, and are quite competent underlings. Their sole weakness is holding erudite debates on interpreting the Queen's commands.

    Web Videos 
  • New Life SMP: Inverted. Players holding the Monkey origin are stated to have a "Monke Brain", meaning they cannot use bows, crossbows, or shields.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: In the episode "Gorillas in the Mist", Bobo the gorilla and his father Rex are fluent enough in sign language to have a conversation in it.
  • Back at the Barnyard: The episode "The Right Cow" features a chimp named Bingo who escaped from a space chimp program because he was tired of taking orders from humans.
  • Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys is about a rag-tag crew of monkeys and apes who were given human-level intelligence by mysterious aliens and an interstellar ship that they used to thwart the plot of the villain.
  • Curious George: George the monkey fully comprehends English despite being unable to speak, is able to perform various tasks, and he can understand several different scientific concepts. Several other animals in the show also have Amplified Animal Aptitude, but not quite to the extent of George.
  • Danger Mouse is set in a world of funny animals. In the 21st century reboot, recurring antagonist Isambard King Kong Brunel is a chimpanzee who is one of the world's most inventive mad scientists.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter's pet monkey Monkey is a skilled superhero who understands human speech and can read minds. In one episode, he encounters a villain named "Simion", one of the early animal astronauts sent into space by NASA, who, after an accident, developed human-level intelligence and through meditation literally gave himself mental powers.
  • Futurama:
  • George of the Jungle: Ape is an ape fluent in English and smarter than his adoptive human brother George.
  • Justice League: As with its source, Gorilla City is a hidden hi-tech community of hyper-advanced primates who want to live in peace, assisting the Justice League. Its only exception is Gorilla Grodd, a fascist and no less capable supervillain who wants control of Gorilla City with an iron fist.
  • The villain of the first and second seasons of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is Scarlemagne, a clinically enhanced mandrill king who runs his court on idolisation of 18th-century France and Britain and unpredictably changes between self-aggrandising politeness and vengeful hooting wrath.
  • Mighty Max: One episode finds Max and friends running across a group of intelligent gorillas living in Africa, abducting humans and living in a style reminiscent of Planet of the Apes. They are fierce believers in "Might Makes Right" and Max finds himself having to challenge their champion in order to free the human slaves they've taken. Ultimately he succeeds and is offered the throne of the tribal leader, but settles instead for introducing the gorillas to the idea of law and order, hopefully making their civilization less aggressive when they eventually become part of the broader world.
  • My Gym Partner's a Monkey: Windsor Gorilla has a very advanced vocabulary for someone who's only about twelve and he knows much more about school subjects than the goofy and incompetent teachers.
  • Octonauts: Above & Beyond: While Paani the Macaque isn't as intelligent as Shellington, he's a hydrologist who knows a lot about the science of water.
  • Planet Sheen: Mr. Nesmith was initially a normal chimp until he was given greater intelligence as well as the ability to speak due to being exposed to the higher gravity on Zeenu. He's a brilliant mathematician.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo is a chimpanzee who is very skilled at building robots and other machines, which he often uses to attempt to take over Townsville. His brain is so huge that it exceeds the size of his head and he needs to wear a helmet to cover it up.
  • The Primal (2019) episode "Rage of the Ape-Men" gives us a tribe of sapient monkeys, at least smart enough to use weapons and have a religion. They are also irredeemable bastards who run sadistic blood sports and capture animals to be slaughtered.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Mr. Teeny is a monkey that has been shown doing human things like driving a car and using a typewriter.
    • "Deep Space Homer" shows that all the chimps sent into space came back super-intelligent. NASA has been keeping it a secret.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: "Chimps Ahoy" revolves around Sandy having to impress a group of beneficiaries in order to secure further funding for her science experiments and stay in Bikini Bottom. Said sponsors are a group of eloquent and sharply dressed chimpanzees who speak in stereotypical British accents.
  • WordGirl: The titular character's sidekick is an intelligent chimpanzee from space named Captain Huggyface/Bob. He's depicted as a Civilized Animal who is often more emotionally mature than WordGirl/Becky herself.

    Real Life 
  • Broadly speaking, as intelligence can be measured in a variety of different ways, it is consensus that our fellow great apes are the most intelligent animals on the planet besides humans. While some other animals do have comparable memory, communication and transmission of knowledge between individuals, and tool use; great apes are almost entirely on their own level in regards to all categories. Short of unexpected surprises in the fossil record, they might also be the most intelligent animals to ever exist.
    • Koko the gorilla was famous for learning to use sign language, and was nicknamed "The Gorilla that Talks" as a result of this. While she did not use syntax or grammar, she knew about one thousand different words in sign language. She could ask simple questions and even showed that she understood how to rhyme by naming a kitten "All Ball". Koko has also had a great influence on zoos all over America — because of Koko, many zookeepers have taught their gorillas how to sign.
    • Chimpanzees that have been taught sign language have gone on to teach other chimpanzees sign language, at which point they will use sign language to talk to each other. Like Koko, they don't use syntax or grammar but they will express hunger when watching another chimpanzee eating, or say things about the weather or things they can see near them.
    • Kanzi is a bonobo who is known for his contributions to great ape language studies, including communicating with a lexigram system. He also learned how to use sign language from watching videos of the aforementioned Koko, and is able to understand spoken words and commands.