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Zira is the name of a fictional character in the novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. She was the basis of the character played in the first three Apes movies by actress Kim Hunter. The name Zira also appeared in other interpretations of the Planet of the Apes mythos and may refer to the following characters:

Novel

In the original novel, Doctor Zira is a chimpanzee psychologist and veterinarian who specialises in the study of humans. Her work involves working with humans under laboratory conditions (e.g. learning and behavioural experiments), and working on them physically (lobotomy and other brain surgeries, vivisection, physical endurance and tolerance experiments, and subsequent autopsies). Zira discovers that her charge Ulysse Mérou (caged in the laboratory where she works) isn't a native-born, mute human of her planet, but a space traveller capable of speech, and she secretly teaches him the language of the apes, in hopes of eventually making a public demonstration, with Mérou's consent. Her fiancé Cornelius also becomes involved, helping prepare Mérou to meet ape society, and vice versa.

Movies

In the first three APJAC Productions films, Zira's character and role are essentially the same as in the novel, though some story details differ. Unique among the Apes characters, Zira has blue eyes. Zira is the fiancée (later wife) of Cornelius, and both are ultimately responsible to the Minister of Science, Doctor Zaius. Zira is an outspoken liberal by nature, deploring war and militancy (and despising the gorillas, who seem to make both a way of life), and eager to seek and develop intelligence anywhere it can be found. Zira literally stands for her principles - or refuses to stand, as the case may be.

In the first movie, Zira meets American astronaut George Taylor, who was shot in the throat when he was captured by gorillas, and cannot speak, as the native humans of her world cannot. She tends to his throat wound, discovers Taylor has intelligence beyond any human she's seen, and pairs him with Nova, also intelligent, hoping the two will breed. When Taylor steals Zira's notepad and writes his own name on it, Zira abruptly drops the nickname "Bright Eyes" she'd given him, and takes Taylor to meet Cornelius. Both disbelieve Taylor's story that he's from another planet, but suppose that he might be a missing link, to explain the similarities between ape and human behavior and anatomy... and the strange artifacts Cornelius found at an archaeological dig the year before. She seems to be fond of the humans that she works with and gives them nicknames, such as an old one she named "Old Timer".

As in the novel, Zira ultimately helps Taylor and Nova to escape the world of the apes, coming to appreciate each as thinking creatures like herself, as well as having a plain fondness for them. She and Taylor kiss goodbye – even though, as she tells him, "You're so damned ugly." Beneath the Planet of the Apes shows Zira and Cornelius married and at home (after Zira makes a political spectacle of herself at an ape gathering), when another human enters their lives; the astronaut Brent, sent to rescue Taylor but now needing help himself. Zira treats a bullet wound Brent sustained, and she and Cornelius send him and Nova (who met Brent when she sought Zira, after Taylor vanished) back out of the city, to spare them from the latest human round-up. When Dr. Zaius visits, he tells Cornelius and Zira he plans to appoint them as his proxies, while he is away on a military campaign with General Ursus. (Zira left her medical gear in sight; covering part of her face, she pretends to Zaius that Cornelius hit her for upsetting the ape council.) Zaius admonishes them both to maintain the status quo, and keep their more liberal values in check. Zira and Cornelius promise to do so, and Zaius departs. In the novel adaptation of the movie, they subsequently begin a chimpanzee revolt, with Zaius and the gorilla army gone.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes has the pregnant Zira (with Cornelius and their friend Dr. Milo) making a different kind of experiment – this time space flight, in Taylor's restored craft the Icarus, when they realize their world is doomed. In a reverse of Taylor's experience, the spaceship travels back in time to a few months after his mission began, splashing down off the California coast. The movie follows Zira and Cornelius (after the accidental death of Dr. Milo) through their discovery, and eventual rejection, by and of human society. A large portion of the rejection comes from Zira's drugged confessions of the details of her human experiments, to the shock of the reactionary Presidential Commission, who declare them atrocities since they were done to humans. Zira's and Cornelius' account of their origins, and of humanity's coming downfall, further stigmatizes the couple. Their baby is born (named Milo after their friend, but later called Caesar), but Zira and Cornelius are murdered a few days afterwards. (Circus owner Armando took them in when the baby came; Zira switched her newborn baby with a circus chimp when she and Cornelius had to go into hiding, leaving Armando a clue in case they didn't return.)

Zira makes no further appearances in the Apes movies, although she is mentioned by name in the remaining sequels, and appears in video stills (while her recorded voice tells the story of their space flight, and of the earth's destruction) the adult Caesar plays back, to learn more about his parents, in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

TV Series

An Apes TV series story concept by Rod Serling referenced a character named Zira who died trying to protect a group of time-lost astronauts from being killed by gorilla security forces. This concept was not ultimately included in the filmed TV series, but the short story Who is this man? What sort of devil is he?, written by Robert Greenberger for the anthology Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone, adapted Serling's tale into the officially-licensed continuity of the TV series. In it, Urko recalls his encounter with the astronaut crew, and his having accidentally killed a human-sympathizing character named Zira.

References

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