Tim Allen as the Narrator
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Interesting and unique footage of chimp social life makes “Chimpanzee” a documentary that will engage both adults and children alike, but younger, sensitive children may not like some of the more intense scenes.
This Disney nature documentary follows a troop of chimpanzees deep in the African rain forests. The story centers on a young chimpanzee named Oscar as he learns survival skills from his mother, learns the social dynamics of the family, and generally plays around. But when a rival troop of chimpanzees moves in on their territory, Oscars life will change forever.
“Chimpanzee” is rated G.
I’ve seen a lot of nature documentaries, so I was happy to find that “Chimpanzee” offered something new that I hadn’t seen before. Many of you have probably seen footage of chimpanzees using sticks like straws to get termites or ants out of mounds, but this documentary shows them actually using rocks as nutcrackers. It’s their use of primitive tools that is remarkable, and even more so when we see young Oscar learning the skill himself. We also see the chimps weaving beds out of limbs high in the trees and settling in for the night. You really begin to get an appreciation for how intelligent these animals are.
But “Chimpanzee” also shows the wild side of the animals, too. You see two troops of chimps viciously battle for territory. You see the chimps conduct a coordinated attack to hunt and kill a monkey for food. It’s actually a bit shocking to see them tear apart the monkey and eat it. It’s not the cute and cuddly side we’re used to seeing in other parts of the movie. As the film progresses, you get a sense that you’re getting a real picture of the life of the animal, not just a sanitized Disney version.
As the movie progresses, you start to wonder how the filmmakers got all of these amazing and intimate shots. They manage to get extreme close-up shots of their hands, feet, and faces. They get amazing footage of the baby chimps playing like human children. You start to get a real sense of the personalities of the animals and you wonder just how long it took them to pull this off and just how much of it was staged. But a ‘making of’ featurette during the credits gives you a real appreciation of what the creators went through to get the footage and you also realize there wasn’t as much staged as you might think.
I also have to say I was impressed with how they handled the material. I fully expected them to show humans capturing and killing chimps and showing footage of the rain forest being chopped down. I was prepared for damnation of mankind, vut thats not what this movie is about. It’s about taking a snapshot of chimpanzee life in the wild (or at least life when they’ve grown accustomed to human voyeurs). I actually found that more appealing because you become emotionally invested in the animals and thus more interested in seeing them protected without being beaten over the head with the environmental message.
I took my boys to this movie and they were totally entranced by it. They of course loved the monkey eating scene and, in the end, actually learned something about chimpanzees that they didnt know before. And long after we left the theater, my youngest son asked me, “Do you think Oscar ended up leading the family?” That really struck me because he ended up caring about what happened to the chimps outside of the film. That, I think, is the most important thing “Chimpanzee” could accomplish.
What Didn’t Work:
I was a little surprised to see that this movie was rated G because it actually is intense in some parts. They play up the fear of Oscar being in danger and the menace of the rival chimpanzees. I see the major event in Oscar’s life is spoiled elsewhere and I’m hesitant to do it here, but let’s just say mothers rarely survive Disney movies and “Chimpanzee” does nothing to end that trend. There was a 5-year-old girl sitting behind us and she was absolutely bawling when ‘the event’ happens. Full on tears and sobbing. So I’d say that if you have a kid 5 or under and they’re the sensitive type, you may want to go see something else.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, “Chimpanzee” was an entertaining film for me and the kids and they learned something along the way, so that makes it a winner in my book.