Kerchak is first seen in the film alongside Kala and their baby keeping him from falling out of their nest. He continues happily playing and bonding with his son but his and Kala's happiness is shattered when their baby wanders off at night and is attacked by Sabor. Overhearing the commotion, the two desperately try to save their child but fail to reach him in time as Sabor carries him off and kills him. This leaves Kerchak and Kala devastated and renders him a much colder and sour person in demeanour. The next morning, Kerchak leads his family onward across the jungle and looks back at a mournful Kala with an equally sad expression on his face.
Eventually Kerchak discovers that Kala is missing (she having followed the cries of a recently orphaned Tarzan) and shows great relief when she returns alive and well. This however turns to shock when he notices baby Tarzan cradled in Kala's arms. Investigating, he is told by Kala that she saved him from Sabor after the bloodthirsty leopard slaughtered his parents. Although sympathetic to her sentiment, Kerchak nevertheless states the child is not one of their kind and would not replace their deceased youngster and after Kala insists that he needs her care, he tells her to return Tarzan where she found him. A shocked Kala objects, claiming he would die if returned but Kerchak stands by his judgement, telling Kala firmly he cannot allow her to place the family in danger by keeping Tarzan as he considers him dangerous. Kala refuses and questions his assertation causing Kerchak to lose his temper and roars at her, scaring both his family and Tarzan who begins crying. After staring at Kala for a few moments harshly, he softens his heart somewhat and allows her to keep the baby when she confirms no other humans were present. However he refuses to accept the child as his son despite allowing him to stay, which he points out directly to Kala. Kerchak then orders the family to rest for the night before looking to Kala with disapproval at her decision.
Kerchak next appears in the film a few years later when an older Tarzan accidentally bumps into him whilst playing causing Kerchak to stare down at him fiercely, much to Tarzan's worry. At that moment Terk, his and Kala's niece, hastily arrives and attempts to diffuse the situation by pretending that Tarzan was lost and lavishing Kerchak with thanks and praise as a leader for finding him, though this only irritates him further. The two children quickly take their leave. Later when Kerchak and the rest of his family are feeding on termite mounds, a herd of elephants come crashing through their territory, a stampede accidentally caused by Tarzan after he undertook a dare by Terk and her friends in the hopes of impressing them. After saving a young member of the family from being trampled he angrily heads over to the lakeside with Kala, suspecting Tarzan of being responsible. When Tarzan accepts responsibilty for causing the stampede and apologizes, Kerchak scolds him furiously saying he almost caused someone to get killed. When Kala comes to Tarzan's defense he berates her for doing so and expresses his belief that Tarzan would never be able to learn from his mistakes or learn how to be one of them. When Kala, angered by his cruel words, points out he never gives Tarzan the chance to prove himself Kerchak openly proclaims Tarzan would never belong with them. An emotionally hurt Tarzan runs off in sadness but after counseling from Kala endeavours to improve himself and show Kerchak he can be as good as any ape. As years pass Tarzan grows in strength and skill though Kerchak's opinion of him remains negative as he matures into an adult.
One day Kerchak is seen shaking his head in disapproval at Tarzan as he wrestles with Terk. When Sabor attacks the family and pursues Tarzan, he nevertheless comes to his defense and does battle with the leopard. Though appearing to have the upperhand, Kerchak is ultimately outmatched by Sabor when she claws his chest and bites into his shoulder. After throwing her off, the ape leader lies injured and almost helpless as the leopard lunges at him to deliver the killing blow, but Tarzan intervenes, kicking her backwards. Kerchek watches from a ledge as Tarzan succeds in killing Sabor after a vicious and protracted fight and then lifts up her body and yells in triumph. When Tarzan looks to him he walks away solemnly when Tarzan presents Sabor's corpse to him. With this Kerchak develops a reluctant respect for him. When gunshots are heard in the distance he leads the family away out of concern. When Tarzan disappears from sight, having followed the gunshots out of curiosity, Kerchak and the rest of the family search for him. Hearing the commotion caused by Terk, the other young gorillas and Tantor at a human camp in the musical number "Trashin the camp" he heads over to investigate. Upon arriving at the camp with Kala and other members of the family he encounters Jane Porter, who Tarzan had earlier saved from an aggressive troop of baboons, and roars at the young woman in anger over her presence terrifying her. He then orders the family to head back into the jungle as Kala calls back Tarzan from Jane before her father and their guide Clayton arrive.
Back at their home Kerchak orders the troop to stay away from the humans believing them to be a danger to their safety. Tarzan urges him to reconsider saying that the newcomers mean them no harm as he has spent time with them. Kerchak refuses stating that while Tarzan is willing to risk the family's safety he is not. Angered by his judgemental, unkind opinions of him Tarzan aggressivly confronts Kerchek on why he feels threatened by anything he considers different. Stunned by this challenge to his authority Kerchak warns Tarzan against visiting the humans and orders him to protect the family by staying away from them. Unknown to Kerchak though, Tarzan continues to regularly visit them behind his back and falls in love with Jane. He nonetheless refuses initially to show them the gorillas despite their requests fearing that Kerchak would harm them if he discovered them near the troop. Eventually Clayton, who secretly wishes to capture and sell the gorillas for profit, manipulates the situation by leading Tarzan to believe that Jane and her father would stay if they could see them. Convinced, Tarzan asks Terk and Tantor to distract Kerchak to which they reluctantly agree.
Kerchak is next seen chasing Tantor and Terk dressed as Professor Porter and Jane respectively through the jungle believing them to have intruded. However the duo accidentally lead him back to the nest and soon enough he comes crashing through the bushes in a rage. When he sees the Porters there he immediately realizes Tarzan brought them and feels hurt that he disobeyed him. His sadness turns to beastial fury when he witnesses Clayton point his rifle at a member of the family he was skirmishing with and charges at him and the Porters intent on attacking them, throwing aside Tarzan when he tries to stop him. Kerchak turns back to the human's and charges when Tarzan fights and pins him to the ground to allow them to escape. Releasing him, a guilt ridden Tarzan apologizes for what he did but Kerchak, feeling betrayed and deceived, renounces any respect he held for Tarzan and disowns him completely, bitterly saying he betrayed their family.
Emotionally conflicted and confused, Tarzan runs off. After Kala shows him his true origins, he decides to leave with Jane to England though it is unknown how or whether Kerchak reacted to this news. Later that night the troop comes under attack from Clayton and his men (who had betrayed and imprisoned Tarzan and the Porters). Kerchak comes to his family's defense but is quickly trapped in a net fired by the poachers leaving the gorillas defenseless as they are captured and imprisoned. Eventually breaking free Kerchak rushes over to save them but is once again brought down by Clayton's men and blinded. Clayton appears himself before Kerchak and remembering him, smugly intends to return the favour by killing him outright and having him stuffed. Before he can shoot him however, Tarzan arrives reinforced with numerous jungle animals as well Terk, Tantor and the Porter's. Tarzan frees him and after Kerchak expresses surprise that he came back Tarzan replies that he came home.
Reconciling the two work together to defeat the poachers and free the rest of the family. After Tarzan is shot in the arm by a vengeful Clayton, Kerchek sees this and rushes at him to protect Tarzan. However Clayton turns his rifle to Kerchak and fires the shot fatally wounding him to the horror of Tarzan. Following his battle with Clayton, who died in the confrontation, Tarzan heads over to a dying Kerchak who was being comforted by Kala. Asking for his forgiveness, Kerchek in turn asks for Tarzan's for not treating him as a part of the family. He then passes on leadership to Tarzan and finally accepts him as his foster son saying "Our family will look to you now. Take care of them my son. Take care of them" before he succumbs to his wounds and dies. Tarzan and the troop mourn his death as Nature brings a rainstorm to show her own sadness before Tarzan, vowing to fullfill his promise to Kerchak, leads them on.
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