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After a plague wipes out Earth's dog and cat population, pet-starved people grow attached to monkeys, which are soon bred to be human-sized with a highly developed intellect. By 1991, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are trained to do a multitude of public service tasks and office support work. Late one afternoon in a major city in North America, circus owner Armando arrives in the city center to arrange advertising for his show, accompanied by the star, young adult chimpanzee Caesar. Unknown to everyone, Caesar is the only offspring of scientist chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira, who lived on Earth in the future year of 3955, the year when the planet was destroyed by a nuclear blast. Hurled back through time by the blast, the scientists arrived on Earth in the year 1973. Brutally murdered by the human bureaucracy that grew to fear the intellectual, speaking chimps, Cornelius and Zira secretly left their baby with the kindly Armando, who raised him in anonymity. Upon arriving in the city with Armando, Caesar is surprised to see numerous monkeys roughly treated by their human handlers, and listens to a litany of animal restrictions called out over speakers. When Caesar asks about the situation, Armando cautions him to remain silent. Proceeding through the plaza, Caesar is amazed to see monkey messengers, hairstylists and waiters, the latter of which have spawned a protest by human waiters. The pair stops to witness a brutal beating of an excited ape by guards until the intervention by a black man, MacDonald, an aide to the governor. Agitated by the callous attack, Caesar cannot resist shouting out "Lousy human bastards!" as a crowd gathers. Startled, the guards turn to Armando, who immediately claims to have made the remark. Frightened when Armando is questioned, Caesar flees and moments later Armando is able to slip through the crowd and follow. Realizing that their flight will bring more suspicion on them, Armando tells Caesar he will voluntarily go to the police to answer all questions and then return for Caesar. If he does not return by a specified time, Armando insists that Caesar go to an unloading dock where foreign apes are delivered so that he can safely mingle with one of the shipments. Horrified at the thought of having to remove his clothes, Caesar nevertheless agrees. Upon reporting to the police, Armando is taken before the ruthless, anti-simian Governor Breck in the company of MacDonald, aide Hoskyns and security head Kolp, who all know of the circus owner's friendship with Cornelius and Zira. Wondering if the chimp scientists' baby was truly killed with its parents and fearful that the monkey population will revolt if guided by a superior leader, the suspicious Breck orders Armando held for further questioning. When Armando fails to return as planned, Caesar sadly complies with his orders and, mingling with a shipment of Borneo orangutans, is processed and taken to a monkey conditioning center for training. Over several days, Caesar carefully observes the center's training methods and quickly demonstrates little need for instruction. Caesar is then rapidly passed on to auction where, impressed by the description of his skills, Breck purchases him for private use. When Caesar intentionally makes a mistake in Breck's office to downplay his abilities, Breck orders him put to work in the Communications Command Center. Meanwhile, an exhausted, disoriented Armando is brought to Kolp and claims that he has no knowledge of a speaking ape. When Kolp reveals his intention to use an "authenticator" ray on Armando to confirm his statement, however, Armando refuses and while struggling with a guard, accidentally crashes through a window and falls to his death. At the center, hearing the news of Armando's death, Caesar is grief-stricken and embittered. Over the next several days, Caesar encourages small displays of public rebellion at their jobs, as well as various thefts from monkeys all over the city. Soon, Caesar meets groups of monkeys at an abandoned cellar where they turn in the stolen goods that include ropes, silverware, knives, a gun and ammunition. Several monkeys, given purchase orders by their masters, bring the forms to Caesar who augments them to enlarge their stash. Concerned over the increasing displays of monkey aggression, Breck suggests the offenders be put through reconditioning, but MacDonald cautions that that will only heighten the agitation. When Kolp discovers that a chimpanzee was checked in with a group of Borneo Orangutans although the island has no chimpanzees, he traces the trail to Caesar. Certain that Caesar must be the speaking chimp they all fear, Breck orders him arrested. When the order comes through to the Communications Center, however, MacDonald lies about Caesar's location and spirits him away. Grateful for MacDonald's protection, Caesar takes a chance and speaks to him, admitting his identity. Although startled, MacDonald pleads with Caesar not to lead a revolt, but Caesar insists that continual cruelty and enslavement forces the monkeys to make a bid for their independence and keep trying until they succeed. Although MacDonald attempts to mislead Kolp and security, Caesar is arrested shortly thereafter. Determined to verify that Caesar has the ability to speak, Breck orders him tortured until he does. Pretending to be overly disturbed by the scene, MacDonald leaves the torture area, only to cut the power to the electric shock table just as Breck orders Caesar electrocuted. Noticing the power gauge behind the guard is not moving, Caesar feigns death, and after Breck and the others depart, he overpowers the guard and escapes to the cellar and waiting monkeys. Leading this large group of monkeys and picking up more in the streets, Caesar heads to the Ape Management building where they confront a group of police. Using the strategies Caesar observed in the training center, the monkeys are able to subdue the armed guards and police, take their weapons and eventually arrive at the plaza Command Center where a horrified Breck watches on monitors. Caesar directs the attack into the Command Center, but orders MacDonald spared while seizing Breck. Demanding to know why humans have enslaved animals intended as pets, Breck says monkeys are too close to humans, who loath the "beast" within themselves. Although outraged, Caesar refrains from striking Breck and orders him carried outside as the Center is set on fire. Although a large group of apes clamor to kill Breck, Caesar hesitates when MacDonald, describing himself as the descendent of slaves who empathizes with the simians' abuse, pleads for him to spare Beck. Noting that chimpanzees are discomforted by the gorillas' preference for violence, Caesar declares that their rebellion will signal a worldwide revolt among monkeys against their servitude, but they will wait for mankind to destroy themselves, heralding an inevitable planet of apes.