Andy Serkis. James Franco. Freida Pinto. John Lithgow. These are clearly the stars of the movie, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which is now showing in theatres. But there are others who had important speaking roles in the movie who won’t appear on theatre marquees. Hamlet, Les, Henry, Keeli, and a host of other chimpanzees spoke for the apes in the movie.
The chimpanzees are residents of Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in northwest Louisiana that provides a home to chimpanzees retired from biomedical research or are no longer wanted as pets or entertainers. Of the 134 chimpanzees currently living at the sanctuary, 124 come from biomedical research.
The facility is on a 200-acre campus that provides spacious outdoor habitats for the chimpanzees to live in large social groups. Every day, they receive nutritious meals and behavioral enrichment—items and activities that challenge that stimulate their mental and cognitive functions.
Unlike the “sanctuary” in the movie, Chimp Haven provides a positive environment where the chimpanzees can climb trees, build nests, participate in social groups, and engage in behaviors typical of chimpanzees who live in the wild. Unlike the time they spent in a laboratory, at Chimp Haven the chimpanzees get to make their own choices about how they will spend their days. They are given as much freedom as possible.
One would assume that such an environment would engender happy chimpanzee vocalizations, but behavioral primatologist and President of Chimp Haven, Dr. Linda Brent points out that, “For the very reason that we give the chimpanzees the opportunity to live their lives as they choose, they experience and communicate their full range of their emotions -- anger, fear, grief, contentedness, aggression, sadness, and joy, among many others.”
So, when the 20th Century Fox audio crew came to Chimp Haven for three days last January to record audio for the movie’s ape vocalizations, they got the full repertoire of sound. What made their recording experience particularly rich was that a new group of chimpanzees had just arrived at Chimp Haven and was being introduced to a group of chimpanzees already living at the sanctuary. These initial meetings always include a lot of posturing, loud threats, and screaming until the group decides to get along. In addition to the dramatic introduction, the crew also got more intimate sounds of food grunts, greetings, and subtle exchanges between chimpanzees.
“We want people to know that, while the apes may be CGI-generated, their voices are from real chimpanzees. Not any chimpanzees, mind you, but chimpanzees who have come out of research,” says Brent. “It seems fitting that they get a speaking role in this move.”
Chimp Haven, The National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a permanent retirement sanctuary for chimpanzees no longer used for biomedical research, entertainment, or as pets. The sanctuary is now home to 131 retired chimpanzees.