It stars a charismatic Dwayne Johnson, it’s based on an old video game, and it’s got explosions and CGI, so there’s a fair chance your kids will be interested in seeing Rampage this weekend. And as long as they’re at least somewhere in late elementary school, it should be fine. But for those of you who have younger children, or simply need a weekend in, Christy offers three primate-themed alternatives you can watch with the family.
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language and crude gestures.
Giant, genetically enhanced animals thunder across the United States en route to destroying Chicago, and only Dwayne Johnson – with a lot of help from Naomie Harris – can stop them. Yes, Rampage is exactly the kind of ridiculous B-movie that you want it to be. But it’s also extremely violent and intense, and will likely be too scary for most kids. Johnson stars as a primatologist who must team up with Harris’ geneticist to prevent a super-powered gorilla, wolf, and alligator from creating massive amounts of carnage. Many people do die, though, in their futile attempts at containing these freakish creatures. There’s a ton of gunfire and explosions. Much of downtown Chicago does indeed get leveled, placing countless numbers of people in peril. And just the sight of these animals brawling and roaring ferociously at each other will probably be too much for young viewers to bear. They don’t call it Rampage for nothing. (Also, the albino gorilla, who’s Johnson’s buddy in happier times, has a running joke with his trainer in which he gives him the middle finger.) But for kids around 11 or 12 and older, this movie is good, stupid fun.
If Rampage sounds like it might be too much for the whole family to handle, here are some other movies featuring primates that everyone can enjoy:
Rating: Not rated
We’ve seen plenty of remakes and parodies. Just last year, we were treated to the high-tech spectacle of Kong: Skull Island. And of course, King Kong has fought other giant creatures in films like 1962’s delightfully cheesy King Kong vs. Godzilla. But this is the granddaddy of them all, and it still holds up 85 years later in terms of its emotional impact. A documentary filmmaker (Robert Armstrong) travels to the South Seas to track down a famed, 50-foot ape. Along for the journey is Fay Wray as the beauty who will be the leading lady in his latest film – and who becomes the object of the misunderstood King Kong’s brutish affections. Back in New York City, he goes so far as to escape his captivity to pursue her, famously grabbing her and climbing up to the top of the Empire State Building with her in his giant, furry paw. Director Merian Cooper’s monster movie remains one of the greatest and most revered of all time. It’s a marvel of miniatures and stop-motion animation, even down to the movement of Kong’s fur. It may look simple now to your kids – especially the brawl on Skull Island between Kong and a T. Rex – given how accustomed they are to more high-tech visual effects. But the classic scene atop the Empire State Building remains thrilling. Fine for viewers around 7 or 8 and older.
A treasure trove of decades-old footage of a young Jane Goodall, when she was just beginning her journey as an advocate for chimpanzees specifically and the globe in general, comprises the bulk of this fascinating documentary. Director Brett Morgen gives us an intimate glimpse into the globetrotting, trailblazing primatologist, back when she was an inexperienced but inquisitive and intrepid 26-year-old. We see her gain the animals’ trust after many months of following and studying them in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, en route to becoming the expert she is today. There’s a bit of chimp-on-chimp violence here, not unlike what you’d see in any nature documentary. Some chimps also die, which is quite sad. And there’s a tiny bit of language, as well as Goodall’s matter-of-fact discussion of her divorce. But Jane is extremely worthwhile for its portrait of a dedicated, independent young woman who dared to travel to the other side of the world to pursue her dreams in a male-dominated field of study. She also narrates the film, based on her own writings, and provides new interviews for perspective. Great for viewers ages 7 or 8 and older.
This isn’t exactly the highest-rated film on this list – or on the whole Tomatometer, for that matter — but I recall loving it as a kid, and I suspect your kids will love it, too. In its day, this Clint Eastwood action-comedy was critically trashed. What was Eastwood thinking? He made his name playing a tough guy. Why would he want to play around with an orangutan? But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Eastwood was looking for a change of pace after the gritty and violent spaghetti Westerns and Dirty Harry movies that made him a superstar. He does seem to be having a blast here. And over time, Every Which Way But Loose has gained a bit of a cult following. Eastwood stars as Philo Beddoe, a truck driver and bare-knuckle brawler who lives in a modest house with his constant companion, an impish orangutan named Clyde. But when he falls for a country singer (Sondra Locke, Eastwood’s former real-life love), his seemingly simple life gets turned upside down. This movie is really silly and playful, and Clyde is always good for a wacky reaction shot or some inappropriate antics. The two have a goofy chemistry together, which plays out through a wide variety of physical comedy. There’s quite a bit of fighting here and some shenanigans involving biker gangs and honky-tonks. But for the most part, this is fine for viewers around 8 or 9 and older. Plus, it could be your kids’ first Eastwood film.