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Film Analysis: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

By Visiting Animal — August 30, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is packing them in at box offices everywhere, bringing with it a unique animal rights message. Activist Loredana Loy provides insight into the film, including her thoughts on the power that the animal liberation theme carries, as well as a critique of where it falls short. 


Film Analysis: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

By Loredana Loy

“Somewhere in the universe, there must be something better than man.”

— Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes (1968)

An animal liberation revolution is happening on the silver screen. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, directed by Rupert Wyatt) provides the ultimate liberation fantasy as it traces the genesis of a new era on our planet, while telling the story of a special kind of leader — Caesar – a chimp born in an animal testing facility to a genetically enhanced mother.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

While perhaps the misanthropic message is not quite as powerful as the one in the original installment of the “Apes” franchise, the movie pulls no punches about the heartlessness of the species that currently, if perhaps not permanently, is in charge of Planet Earth. Not only are the human animals not the central characters here, but they come off poorly, to say the least, when contrasted with the chimpanzees. Will (James Franco), the scientist whose discoveries about intelligence enhancement as a possible solution to Alzheimer’s are the instigation for the experiment leading to Caesar’s birth, is a caricature of what the real hero of the movie, Caesar, represents in terms of loyalty, love, and trust. Will only reluctantly saves Caesar in the first place, and does not hesitate to test on a new group of chimps even after he has formed a bond with Caesar. He also refers to another victim of testing labs, Koba, as “it,” even though he knows Koba is a male. Even to the extent he might have some regard for Caesar, as well as for the other apes, it clearly doesn’t extend to other species. We see his family gorging on bacon and eggs at breakfast. But compared to the callousness of the shelter guards, Will is a model of compassion.

However, while this movie presents a powerful critique of the ugliness of human behavior toward animals, it also offers much more than that. An ode to freedom and nature as the true home for any animal, Rise of the Planet of the Apes raises issues regarding animals that are timely for those of us in the real world. Throughout, an animal-centric point of view is explored and promoted. Naturally, the prominent issue is that of animal experimentation (although showcased in its PG version). But other less central issues are touched on as well — the keeping of apes as “pets,” the status of animals as property, and the issue of shelters supplying animals to testing facilities for profit. Perhaps the underlying fundamental theme of this dark tale concerns the effects that greed and the pursuit of profit (at all costs) has on animals, and, ultimately, on humans.

One of the most widely touted animal-positive features of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the refusal to use live apes in the making of the movie, and it is, indeed, heartening to see this story about chimpanzee exploitation told without itself contributing to the suffering it decries. However, although the movie gets much right about the problems with humans’ attitudes toward animals, it is, unfortunately, itself guilty of speciesism. The movie not only uses live horses, but allows its ape hero to ride a horse in a scene where he is fighting his human enemies, thus begging the question: Will the apes not only replace us, but also continue our exploitation of other animals? Perhaps the writers wanted to be faithful to the original Planet of the Apes, which did indeed portray the simian society as using horses to hunt humans. Whatever the reason, it was disappointing to see this type of exploitation of one species portrayed so casually in a movie that so aptly addressed the evil exploitation of another.

But, flaws aside, there is no question that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, ultimately, a paean to animal (or at least ape) liberation. Thus, the real question becomes — can a Hollywood blockbuster serve as a tool for social change? In the short time since it opened in theatres, the movie has been seen by an estimated 22 million people worldwide and has managed to create a media stir that goes far beyond Oscar predictions for its truly extraordinary special effects, reaching issues ranging from evolution, science, and animals in entertainment, to policy, race, and endangered species. The movie has piqued the interest of everyone from Peter Singer to republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett, whose op ed in The New York Times called for an end to all experiments on apes. Certainly animal protection organizations have seized the opportunities presented by the movie’s box office success and media attention. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a call to action entitled “The Real Planet of the Apes.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals increased its focus on animal testing discourse in conjunction with the film’s release, and various other groups are organizing screenings and protests.

Can this blockbuster truly change hearts and minds about animals? In-depth research would be needed to assess the effects of the movie on attitudes and behaviors, but one thing is certain — Rise of the Planet of the Apes has brought much-needed attention to some animal issues.


Also be sure to catch our Hollywood correspondent, Ari Solomon’s, review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which can be heard on our 83rd podcast episode

Loredana Loy

Loredana Loy is a long-time animal liberation activist and a graduate student at New York University. She is studying the animal liberation movement through sociological and cultural lenses. Her research is focused on cinema as a tool for promoting animal liberation messages.

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(17) Readers Comments

  1. August 30, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Best. Movie. Ever.

  2. August 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you! I was curious about this movie, but didn't want to spend money on it if it had an anti-animal message. It's disappointing that they used real horses, but that puts it on par with many movies.

  3. September 14, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Yeah, you need to get over yourselves, there is a difference between exploitation and cruelty, and it does a disservice to the animal rights movement to confuse the two. Try to remember that most animals in the wild suffer through short, brutish lives of extrememly high stress and anxiety, and usually die in agony. Exploitation is definitely one of the lesser of many evils.And try to remember that to truly reach a real-life audience, the ones who's minds need changing and reaching, not the ready made vegans out there, the movie needs to be identified with by them on their terms, not yours. So yes, tributes to the original film in the form of a horse-riding ape are an important feature of the movie. And the choice to use real horses is quite likely a humane one, given the amounts of controls now in place in the industry and outside regulaiton brought to bear by interested NPOs - those horses were probably lovin' it. Quite likely they've been reared their whole lives around people and activity and were in their element - it's a far cry form the glue factory or the slaughter house and probably beats getting your neck snapped by a croc/lion or slowly and agonisingly succumbing to the venom produced by any number of predators on the african savannah - which, like it or not, is the likely end for most of the prey beasts born in the wild (in africa, obviously, but the concept travels light).So, seriously, get over yourselves, see the movie for the hugely positive step it is for encouraging people, who would otherwise barely have the attention span to lift their heads out of their xboxes long enough to eat, to actually begin to identify with creatures of another species as beings worthy of some measure of consideration beyond how there existance can be exploited for our benefit.

    • September 14, 2011 at 11:59 am

      Thanks for your comment, Brian. I passed it on to the reviewer. I appreciate your thoughts. I think the review actually agreed with a lot of your thoughts, and said that the movie was overall EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. I think it recognizes that importance, and one thing we are always very clear about at Our Hen House is the value of meeting people where they are. And I think that, as activists, and within the context of a film ANALYSIS, it's okay to criticize the pieces of a film within the context of seeing the larger picture, the perspective that this was indeed an excellent film for animal rights, as was said more than once in this review. The fact that you said "get over yourselves," repeatedly, shows a disrespect to the reviewer and a lack of understanding of where she was coming from. Other than that, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Loredana Loy
    September 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Hello Brian,Thank you for your feedback. As Jasmin already clarified, this review was very positive and the few objections were part of the critical analysis process. In direct response to the other points you made in your note:1) There is indeed a difference between cruelty towards animals and the exploitation of animals. Cruelty towards animals (by humans) is just one of the by-products of the exploitation of animals. Furthermore, we must not conflate the interaction of animals in nature with the interaction of humans with animals in our society. The latter was the focus of my review and it encompasses factory farming, animal testing, animals in entertainment, etc. The animal rights movement is concerned with ending the exploitation of animals in our society. Work against animal cruelty usually implies focus on the treatment of animals and it is more generally referred to as the animal welfare (or the humane) movement.2) This forum is a place for animal rights activists to engage in critical thinking and discussion. This review was written with them in mind as a target audience.3) Regarding the horse used in this particular movie - once again the focus of my review was not on his or her treatment during the filming, but rather on the larger concept of using horses in general.Perhaps this particular horse enjoys running on a movie set among explosions and frantic people, and perhaps he or she even likes being transported in a trailer for hours (although it is highly unlikely). However, that is not the issue. The issue is what happens to this horse and to other horses once they become too old to perform and/or are injured, and are deemed useless by the industry. The majority of these horses are not sent to enjoy a happy retirement on green pastures. They are sent to slaughterhouses. The fact that they were stars does not matter much, as the story of Ferdinand, the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby taught us. As long as it is acceptable to use horses and animals in general, their exploitation as mere commodities will continue.Regards,Loredana Loy

  5. November 29, 2011 at 7:25 am

    hi there,are animals used in the film industry really "ransported in a trailer for hours" and do they have to run "on a movie set among explosions and frantic people" and "once they become too old to perform and/or are injured, and are deemed useless by the industry" are they really "sent to slaughterhouses"? any factual response would be greatly appreciated.thanks, Robert

  6. Loredana Loy
    December 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Hi Robert,Thank you for your comment. A very good factual and visual introduction to the issue of animals in entertainment is depicted in the documentary Cruel Camera. The documentary was produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).From the CBC: "investigation twenty-five years ago, called Cruel Camera, uncovered an uncomfortable, even shocking, reality about moviemaking: animals, intentionally put in harm's way, abused, often killed to create the kind of cinematic excitement that draws a crowd. Now, twenty-five years on, the fifth estate thought it was time to take another look through the Cruel Camera to see how things have changed. His findings show that although much has changed in the TV and movie business, many of the damning findings of the original investigation haven't changed much at all”.The documentary is available for viewing here: case of troubles with the link above, the documentary is also available on youtube in three parts:, the documentary Earthlings has a section on animals in entertainment:, here's a short summary of abuses that have taken place on movie sets: this helps.Regards,Loredana Loy

  7. Loredana Loy
    December 2, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Additional note to the post above -- A better quality youtube version of Cruel Camera can be viewed here:

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