When we were just a few years older than Microkhan Jr. is now, we developed a serious fascination with the Pippi Longstocking movies. At the time, it didn’t occur to us that the characters’ voices were dubbed, or that Pippi’s Popeye-liked strength defied logical explanation. All we cared about was the special bond that “the world’s strongest girl” shared with Mr. Nilsson, her crafty monkey sidekick. Their irresistible relationship convinced us at an early age of the veracity of a Hollywood axiom: There is no story that cannot be improved by the addition of a non-human primate.
Sticking to that credo has worked wonders for Robert Vince, the unjustly unheralded master of the talented animal movie. Though perhaps best known for his canine-centric Air Bud franchise (which has now morphed into more of an ensemble enterprise), Vince’s most memorable work has involved chimpanzees. We’re speaking, of course, about the Most Valuable Primate trilogy, in which well-trained chimps have variously engaged in ice hockey, skateboarding, and snowboarding.
Now, let us be clear—none of these flicks are “good” in the classic sense, and we’d certainly be bucking for a lightning bolt were we to compare Vince’s directorial prowess to that of, say, Akira Kurosawa. But we do admire Vince’s business acumen—like the Pippi Longstocking movies, the Most Valuable Primate installments are perfectly built to work as cash machines. Here’s the quick breakdown on why:
Low Budget We’re not sure what the union scale is for chimpanzee actors, but we’re guessing it’s on the low end of the spectrum. Vince’s movies also eschew expensive special effects in favor of letting the well-trained primates take center stage.
Global Appeal Note that Vince’s trilogy deliberately focuses on sports that are popular not just in North America, but in multiple nations that have a strong affinity for athletic chimpanzees. (Think Northern Hemisphere.) And as the dubbed clip above shows, entertainment of this ilk translates well between languages—just like Pippi.
High Replay Value Are sports movies predictable? Sure, and that applies even when the main character is a chimpanzee. But for viewers in the 4-to-9 age range, the buzz of seeing the good guys triumph doesn’t wear off for many, many viewings. And Vince certainly realizes that the home video market is where it’s at for his cinematic output.
While Vince will likely never receive a lifetime achievement Oscar for his work, we can pay his talents this great compliment: All of his sports chimp movies are vastly superior to baseball-themed Ed, which may have driven co-star Matt LeBlanc into the nefarious clutches of cocaine.