Koko the Gorilla

Koko is a 2004 Nature documentary featuring the gorilla who taught scientists much more than they’d imagined possible about how animals, humans included, communicate. This film, part of the popular Nature series and narrated by Martin Sheen, examines how Koko interacts with the doctors who studied her, including lead researcher Penny Patterson, with whom she forged a strong bond. This is a fascinating documentary about a 30 year-old gorilla who learned sign language, and had her own pet kitten. We are shown Koko’s life from the time she was small enough to be picked up by her trainer/human companion, Penny Patterson, to when she as an adult weighs 300 pounds. Even at that size, Koko is incredibly gentle when she hugs Penny. We are introduced to Koko’s understanding of English, how she learns to sign and strings words to form new concepts. Imagine, a gorilla, learning Sign Language at three months old? The first thought that comes to mind is “impossible”, right? Wrong, my friends. It was wonderful to watch as Koko learned, and displayed much more than just rote memory “tricks”. The concept of inter-species communication through sign language is fascinating. A captivating look into the mind and emotions of Koko, this female gorilla who communicates through the use of sign language. The film, while surprisingly unsentimental, will not fail to move you. The complexity of Koko’s personality, her sense of humor, and her ability to connect beyond her own species will challenge (and perhaps change) our understanding of the world and our place in it. It would seem that we as humans have much more in common with other species than we previously thought possible. Koko taught the world about the complexity of emotion that these highly intelligent primates are capable of feeling. For example, Koko longed to be a mother, and yet was still very choosy about her mate, an issue many women face today. Along with Koko, we meet gorilla Michael — who was brought in as a mate, before her trainers learned that a gorilla brought up with another as a youngster views him as a brother rather than as a boyfriend. There were several moments during this documentary that gave me chills at the amazing ability of Koko and Michael to communicate, but it was Michael’s retelling of his mother’s death and his capture that was probably the most heart-stopping. Watching this huge gorilla describe his sadness over his mother’s violent death will change the way you look at gorillas forever. An amazing glimpse into the minds of other sentient beings. You’ll laugh as Koko uses video dating to search for a possible mate. I especially found the part about Koko and her pet cat All Ball to be wonderful and sad. How amazing that these gentle creatures have such tenderness towards a smaller animal. What a heart-breaker when she learned that her kitten “All Ball” had died. We see her undeniable grief over the death of All Ball. Proof positive that we are not all that far above the great apes. Those who don’t believe that animals have feelings may think twice about their assumption after watching this highly moving and amazing film. I liked how the majority of the movie included actual footage of Koko and her devoted trainer Penny Anderson throughout her life. The footage was clear, and the material was organized and presented very well. Anyone who values what we can learn from our fellow sentient beings will love this film. I had heard of Koko and Penny Pattersen before, and I have seen other documentaries about them. I remember reading the book called Koko & the Kitten when I was a child. This is a beautiful story that I have literally grown up with, (well, since I was twelve). Now I’m twenty-five and I still think about Koko regularly. I enjoyed this documentary because I learned so much more about her. Worth seeing again. What a truly remarkable and moving film of Koko and her life! Not a lot of people know about her remarkable story. Highly recommended for documentary-lovers and animal-lovers alike. This is a remarkable and poignant film which I found moving and intellectually amazing. This is a rich and profound film that should not be missed. Koko’s story is fascinating and should be shared with everyone. Please watch this and support gorillas around the world. We don’t want gorillas to become extinct. Remember we humans have the same blood type as gorillas. Please watch and fall in love with Koko. Documentary Nature 2004 NR 60 minutes.

A 1978 film about Koko presenting the early years of Koko’s life with Penny is as informative and enlightening as it is moving, emotional, entertaining. It left me wanting to know the next 30+ years of the story, as presented in this 2004 “Nature” documentary.


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