If Will Ferrell’s first idea for Anchorman was made into a movie, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to see Tim Robbins cut off Luke Wilson’s arm or hear Ron Burgundy turn “scotchy scotch scotch” into an immortal meme. In an recent interview, Ferrell told The Ringer that the first draft of Anchorman involved the news anchors crash-landing a plane into a mountain and being stalked by murderous apes that fell out of a different plane.
“Throughout the movie, we’re being stalked by orangutans who are killing, one by one, the team off with throwing stars,” said Ferrell. Ape scientists would likely have been impressed with the plot’s faithfulness to ape biology in the original plot, although they probably should have cast chimpanzees instead.
The role of the angry ape is central to many movies, from King Kong and Bloodmonkey to the entire Planet of the Apes franchise. They’re often portrayed as violent animals, but characterizing them is not usually so simple because their aggressiveness varies according to species and situation. The family of apes, after all, includes chimpanzees, the Bornean orangutan, the peaceful bonobos, and, of course, humans, and not all of them will attack others, and especially not without reason.
Most often, it’s chimpanzees that are observed in violent outbursts, like killing tyrannical individuals or attacking rival groups. Orangutans, which are semi-solitary, are considered to be less aggressive, though University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers point out that they occasionally get into territorial disputes. What generally typifies ape aggression, however, is the fact that those situations usually only arise when they’re trying to protect themselves or compete for food and other natural resources. In the original Anchorman, the gang of news anchors dropping onto a mountainside would almost certainly have been viewed by the newly-arrived orangutans as a threat.
And then there’s the ninja stars. Could orangutans throw them? Well, there’s no question that apes can use tools: The chimps that killed their “dictator” reportedly did so by beating it to death with sticks and rocks. In a less violent incident, a chimpanzee mother was shown to use a piece of wood to brush the teeth of her dead son in a tender death ritual. Apes learn to use tools around them to hunt for food or to open nuts. People have even trained chimps to hold guns, so proposing that they could use Chinese throwing stars isn’t that far off.
Sadly, Ferrell’s vision for a battle between great apes never came to be, at least, not the way he’d originally planned. In the end, we did get a war of ape versus ape — perhaps the most dangerous primate of all, Homo sapiens, locked into bloody warfare in a parking lot with its own needlessly aggro, trident-wielding kind.