To quote Romy and Michele, “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop.”
The “her” in this case is Dr. Zira, one of the greatest heroines in cinema history, and star of my favorite chapter within the Planet of the Apes franchise, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (Disc/Download). I’ve written about my love of these films before, but this week I’d like to go into more detail about why I’m so darn crazy about this particular one. Let’s unpack.
In my mind, I’ve given all the Apes movies simple descriptors. #1 is “the Charlton Heston”, #2 is “the weird one”, #4 is “the prison one”, and #5 is “the one with all the battles”. But #3 is the best of all because it’s “the Rege-Bev-Wilsh one”. That’s right, just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the Apes travel to Los Angeles, and somehow land themselves a cushy suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a limo, and a fabulous shopping spree. Was Garry Marshall a secret Dr. Zira fan?? We’ll never know. But I like to think Zira and Vivian are cosmically linked in a more general sense. Both are strong, smart, and independent. Both have incredible fashion sense. Both drink too much champagne and get a little giggly. And both of them know how to love fiercely, with their whole hearts. Indeed, it’s this fierce love that makes #3 the most emotionally poignant Apes film in the series. Having fled Future Earth with her husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) before a nuclear explosion destroys the planet, Zira arrives in the past having all the answers about what’s to come. And what’s to come is not good for humans. The biggest threat arrives in the form of the unborn child of Zira and Cornelius, who is destined to be the link between humans and intelligent apes. The US government wants to destroy that link to save their own species, and thus Zira and Cornelius must take drastic measures to protect her pregnancy. Throw in Ricardo Montalbán as a kindhearted circus owner, plus a switched-at-birth plotline, and you’ve got one riveting soap opera of a movie.
Before you go thinking of this movie as a Sci-Fi Shakespearean tragedy, let me reassure you- it’s definitely got its silly moments. Such as the ’70s sitcom music playing over shopping montages, or the time Zira goes to a cocktail party and gets drunk on “Grape Juice Plus” (aka, champagne). For some reason, the humans seem to think apes love oranges, so maybe that’s the “plus” they’re referring to? Let’s try it and see. While watching Escape from the Planet of the Apes, I recommend drinking Grape Juice Plus.
Grape Juice Plus
1 oz Cointreau
3 oz Champagne
Orange twist or dried orange for garnish
Build drink in a champagne flute. Garnish with an orange twist or wheel.
It’s become a bit of a tradition in my house to watch the Apes movies over a long weekend in January, and it almost feels like the New Year doesn’t officially start until Dr. Zira shows up in a pink cape like some sort of brilliant psychology superhero. I’ve had a lot on my plate the last month (such as finishing a major home renovation, plus editing and promoting my upcoming novel!), so taking the opportunity to relax with a glass of bubbly and a great movie feels almost decadent. Dr. Zira, let’s just go ahead and reserve next year’s stay at the Rege-Bev-Wilsh now. I’ll bring the grape juice. Cheers!