Lip-syncing with Lance: the ape with the pants

Primate espionage with Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp

Chimps in hats. Chimps in trousers. Chimps in monocles. Chimps in miniskirts tights and high-heeled shoes. Chimps riding Shetland ponies and driving go-karts.

Is any of this causing you to light up with excitement? Because I recognize that there is an audience for this kind of thing where the sight of a well-dressed ape dialing a telephone or eating spaghetti is just all kinds of cute and totally worth watching.

Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp (1970) finally got a Canadian DVD release this week and yes it is incredibly bizarre that this show exists at all. It’s a Get Smart! -style spy spoof only all of the actors are chimpanzees and humans don’t seem to exist. Lancelot Link assisted by his… er… “beautiful” co-agent Mata Hairi do high-risk espionage for the good guys the Agency to Prevent Evil or A.P.E. The bad guys all work for C.H.U.M.P. (the Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld’s Master Plan) and all have vaguely foreign accents or costumes since that’s how you can tell who is evil in 1970. The chimps all wear human clothing (dig those ’70s styles!) and flap their lips at the camera and we hear voice actors desperately trying to fit words into the mouth movements occasionally resorting to random sneezes groans or even bursting into song depending on what the ape did.

The chimps are all incredibly trained and not just to hold still on-camera without ripping all of their jewelry and groovy duds off. At least once per episode things will just stop dead and the camera will focus in on one of the chimps performing a task that must have taken ages to learn like the time Mata Hairi actually successfully threads a needle. It’s kind of amazing and boring at the same time. Like the time Lance slowly put a surgical glove on stopping several times taking it off and starting again — and then the camera keeps on him as he starts putting on the other glove. Aaaarrrrgggh!

Apart from the first episode which is a two-parter (“There’s No Business Like Snow Business”) each Lancelot Link story only takes up half an episode or about 11 minutes. That’s a good length for it. Just enough time for the bad guys to reveal their world-conquering gizmo and for Lance and Mata to stop it. In between the two segments we get a musical number from Link’s pop band The Evolution Revolution (Oh hello there fast-forward button! So glad to see you!) and a segment called Chimpies which is just a bunch or lightning-fast vignettes of dressed-up chimps doing random things.

Disc 3 of the DVD set includes a “making of” documentary which itself has an older shorter documentary plunked down right in the middle of it. Kids won’t care but adults will find it more interesting than the actual show hearing all the weird stories about making an all-chimp secret agent program. Apparently the chimps all knew that they were performing got used to receiving applause at the end of a take and got jittery if the crew forgot to clap. Also the chimp playing Lance never learned how to move his mouth to simulate dialogue so they just gave him peanut butter to chew all the time. (Surely that’s the moment where you put one of the more trainable chimps in the lead role right? Or is it just me?) Oh and apparently the all-chimp rock band would actually flail on their instruments in time to the music if the tune was played for them during filming. And here I thought they just dubbed in rock music over footage of an ape trying to kill a drum set….

So yes this entire enterprise is silly as hell but it is unique in the world of entertainment. Plus genuinely funny stuff happens from time to time and the sight of a cowboy chimp riding on a pony will stick with you. You’ve probably already decided if Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp is something you need to see or revisit. Children longtime fans and people enchanted by animals wearing clothes will dig this.