Kerchak is a large and powerful gorilla who would do anything to protect his family and its people. Due to this, Kerchak often appeared to be mistrusting, cold, judgmental, aggressive towards outsiders. Tarzan noted that he felt threatened by anyone that was different from him. Throughout most of Tarzan's early life, Kerchak treated him with disdain and disapproval and refused to accept him as his son. However, after Tarzan saved Kerchak and his family from Sabor, Kerchak finally grew to respect him and, by the end of the film, tried to protect Tarzan from Clayton which cost him his life. While he was dying, Kerchak asked Tarzan to forgive him for never treating him as a member of his family and finally believed that Tarzan was his son.
Before the death of his biological son, Kerchak appeared to be warmer and more playful as he was seen playing with the baby gorilla but after the child was killed by Sabor, he grew cold, bitter, and grumpy. Despite his intimidating demeanor, Kerchak cared deeply about his family and was willing to risk his life to protect them. He did occasionally show a caring side as when Tarzan was presumed dead after falling off a cliff, Kerchak tried to comfort Kala. He also seemed to have become somewhat overprotective of the gorillas following the death of his biological son, as he refused to adopt a baby Tarzan because he feared it may endanger his family, in spite of being clearly harmless.
Kerchak was a powerful fighter and his massive frame and brute strength gave him the advantage over most opponents. However, he could be outmaneuvered by more agile fighters as shown when he fought against Sabor who used her superior speed and agility to gain the advantage before Tarzan intervened.
Kerchak is a large, adult male gorilla with black hair and gray skin. Some of the hair on his back is silver because Kerchak is a silverback gorilla (the dominant male in a gorilla family). His forearms are enormous and his head is rather large. His eyes are brown and small in comparison to the rest of his head.
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. Kala tries to continue pursuing Sabor, but Kerchak stops her, knowing that their son was gone. Kala breaks down at the loss as Kerchak attempts to comfort her. The loss leaves Kerchak and Kala devastated and renders Kerchak a much colder and sour gorilla in demeanor. 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 son 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 judgment, 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 Kerchak is not close to being amused. 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 comes 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 baby gorilla from being trampled, he angrily heads over to the lakeside with Kala, suspecting Tarzan is responsible. When Tarzan accepts responsibility for causing the stampede and apologizes, Kerchak scolds him furiously, saying he almost killed someone. 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 receiving some counseling from Kala, endeavors to improve himself and show Kerchak that he can be just as good as any ape. As the 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, the silverback nevertheless comes to his defense and does battle with the leopard. Though appearing to have the upper hand, he is ultimately outmatched by Sabor when she claws his chest and bites into his shoulder. After throwing Sabor off, Kerchak lies injured and almost helpless as the leopard lunges at him to deliver the killing blow, but Tarzan intervenes, kicking Sabor backward. Kerchak watches from a ledge as Tarzan succeeds in killing Sabor after a vicious and protracted fight and then lifts up her body and yells in triumph. When Tarzan looks to him, the silverback walks away solemnly when Tarzan presents Sabor's corpse to him. With this, Kerchak develops 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 to state that while Tarzan is willing to risk the family's safety, he is not. Angered by his judgmental, unkind opinions of him, Tarzan aggressively confronts Kerchak 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 leads 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 is shocked by the sight of them. Tarzan tries to explain, but Kerchak goes into bestial fury when he witnesses Clayton point his rifle at a young member of the family he was skirmishing with and charges at him with the intention of attacking him, throwing aside Tarzan when he tries to stop him. Kerchak turns back to the humans 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 scolds him for betraying 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 favor 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 Porters. 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, Kerchak sees this and rushes at the hunter to protect Tarzan. However, Clayton turns his rifle to Kerchak and fires the shot fatally wounding the silverback 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, Kerchak, 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 Mother Nature brings a rainstorm to show her own sadness before Tarzan, vowing to fulfill his promise to Kerchak, leads them on.
Kerchak appears in a flashback in Tarzan and Tublat's Revenge, where he is shown fighting Tublat. Kerchak eventually defeats Tublat, but the aggressive ape then grabs a branch and knocks Kerchak out unconscious. As Tublat prepares to finish Kerchak, a young Tarzan threw two coconuts at him and broke his nose, Tublat angrily attacks the boy, but Kerchak quickly steps in and stops Tublat and banishes the aggressive ape. The silverback then tells Tarzan that he is the one who protects the family and that Tarzan shouldn't have interfered. In the same episode, Tarzan, who was inspired by Jane drawing a picture of her deceased mother, carved out a statue of Kerchak in honor of the fallen leader and vows to continue protecting their family.
Kerchak is first seen at a lake taking a puddle in his hand to drink but he is then splashed in the face by Tarzan while he was chasing Terk, Kerchak then looks angrily at Tarzan and rolls his eyes and watches three baby gorillas follow Tarzan and Terk. He then leads the family across a log but when he notices that the log was going to fall, he tells the family to run. Kerchak runs to an injured Kala who tried to save Tarzan who did not make it to the other side while the family did. He then comforts a mourning Kala who believed Tarzan was dead but he was actually unconscious and is still alive.
Kerchak appears in the series, specifically in the world Deep Jungle, they were no exception. When Sora, Donald, and Goofy meet Kerchak, his distrust of outsiders causes him to treat them rather coldly. But after Sora and company save the family from Clayton, he lets them into the waterfalls, where Sora seals the Keyhole of Deep Jungle.
Unlike the film, Kerchak does not talk once and he was not killed by Clayton in the end and still remains the leader of the gorillas.
Kerchak made his first appearance as a walk-around character in 2013, during the Walt Disney World portion of the Disney Dreamers Everywhere! event.
- Kerchak appears to have the original novel equivalent's name, but the original novel version of Tublat's personality. In the novels, Kerchak was more violent and was responsible for the murder of Tarzan's father instead of Sabor in the film (in the books, Tarzan's mother died of natural causes). Paradoxically enough, the exact opposite is true with Tublat.
- Originally Harrison Ford was considered for the role of Kerchak before Lance Henriksen was chosen.
- Like real gorillas, Kerchak is depicted beating his chest with the palms of his hands as opposed to clenched fists commonly depicted in gorillas in both popular culture and public imagination.
- However, in his later appearance in the television series, he is seen beating his chest with his fists after defeating Tublat, rather than with his palms.
- It is possible that besides his and Kala's son, Kerchak could also have been the father of Terk, Flynt and Mungo and the other young gorillas of the troop as in real life gorilla troops, only the dominant male can mate with the females although there have been cases of dominant males who allowed the other males in their group to mate in order to secure their loyalty and friendship. Besides they don't seem to threat him as their father nor they refer to him as such.
- One of the trailers for the film, shows Kerchak throwing Tarzan who attempts to restrain Kerchak when he attempts to attack Clayton after catching him pointing his gun at a baby gorilla and throwing him aside hitting his back on the branch. That scene does not appear in the film itself. This scene is trimmed to show Tarzan landing on the ground instead.
- Kerchak is abnormally large for a gorilla. The western gorilla is on average 5ft 4in tall; slightly shorter than an average person today.