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Theatrical Review: CHIMPANZEE

Melissa Green

by:
April 19th, 2012

Am I the only one who has ever wanted a pet chimp? I think not (the immortal Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles comes to mind). This endearing love for our close genetic relatives compels us to visit Disneynature’s fourth nature doc, CHIMPANZEE. Set in the lush green landscape of the Tai Forest, deep within the Ivory Coast, CHIMPANZEE reveals a rare glimpse into the lives of a group of chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

Perhaps as a reflection of our own humanity, we are propelled to go on the adventure that chronicles the life of an adorable little chimp named Oscar.  Having our curiosity piqued by the little chimp protagonist, we discover the importance of a rock to crack some nuts (do not underestimate this there is a real skill involved), the pure delight of bugs on a stick, the protective and nurturing maternal instincts of mama chimp Isha, social hierarchy commanded by group alpha Freddy, and imminent dangers found in rival gang leader Scar.

However, all of this beauty and wondrous amazement is dulled by the annoying, yakking narration of Tim Allen (yes kids, that would be Home Improvement’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s trademark grunt and crappy one-liners).   Nevertheless, I couldn't resist becoming concerned with the fate of the chimps we were introduced to.

SPOILER ALERT!

Ultimately, in a heightened dramatic scenario, Scar’s rival “pack of thugs” (as Allen refers to them) attack Oscar’s group. In a tragic turn of events, little Oscar’s mother Isha falls victim to the attack and he is left to fend for himself. Our hearts break and I became a little misty-eyed watching Oscar cry out for his mama, lose weight because he has not eaten, and become the group's outcast because he is all alone. In a bittersweet turn of events, Freddy, the group’s strongest Alpha male, takes delicate Oscar under his wing to form a truly heartwarming bond (insert sigh here).

CHIMPANZEE was co-directed by Mark Linfield, a former zoologist who had worked on the spectacular series Planet Earth, and Alastair Fothergill, the director for Disneynature’s last doc AFRICAN CATS. Both are passionate storytellers who were fortunate to capture a truly unique situation. Accompanied by breathtaking cinematography, the filmmakers were incredibly effective at capturing the footage of chimps in their African habitat, especially if one considers the difficulty of maneuvering through dense jungle with a noisy camera crew, and the clever scurry of chimps that have been exposed to minimal human interaction. Incidentally, the end credits provide some production footage granting the audience insight into the filmmaker’s struggles with bugs, fauna, and other elements.

Unlike AFRICAN CATS, which deals with similar survival themes, CHIMPANZEE appears to water them down so as to not offend its G-rated audience. If we are to compare CHIMPANZEE to other films such as PROJECT NIM, which takes a very straightforward, somewhat scientific approach, we can observe how tongue-in-cheek narration can dilute the ability to connect to poignant moments. Furthermore, I felt as though chimp Scar got a bad rap: Yes, he is an Alpha male who spearheads the attack on Oscar’s group, but that is what instinct propels chimps to do. We never get an opportunity to learn about the other group’ s trials and tribulations or get a glimpse into their daily survival rituals and social struggles.

CHIMPANZEE opens on Earth Day, April 20th. A portion of every ticket sold the first week of release will be donated to the Jane Goodall Institute via the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund for the protection of chimpanzees.  Even with Tim Allen’s overbearing interjections, CHIMPANZEE is worth seeing and appeals to all ages. So how do I go about getting a pet chimp now?


Grade: B

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