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Review: Chimpanzee – with extra Zzzz

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Chimpanzee PosterEveryone knows the old axiom, “monkey see, monkey do,” so maybe it was because of my primate proclivities that, while watching chimps sleep, nap and wearily walk about the jungle in the new Disneynature film, Chimpanzee, I was nearly put right to sleep.

I was very excited to see this new film, which was made in the style of the old Disney True-Life Adventure movies that create story narratives out of wildlife documentary footage. These films can be corny and often the “story” is made-up and edited to add drama to just plain footage of animals living their normal mundane existence, but I usually love this stuff. I also have huge affection for monkeys and apes (blame Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan) so I thought Chimpanzee would be an easy hit for me.  Unfortunately, I was very disappointed.

In Chimpanzee, Oscar is a baby chimp in the African rainforest where he spends his days hanging onto his mother, learning jungle survival skills and playing with the other young apes. His mother is killed and the little ape is orphaned when a troupe of rival chimps attempt to invade his tribe’s territory for their food resources. The baby chimp is alone, shunned and struggling to survive until he finds help and support in an unlikely manner. The film was directed by Alastair Fothergill (Disneynature’s African Cats) and is narrated by Tim Allen (The Santa Clause), whose voice does not really lend much to this film other than a tacky “Tool Time” reference.

It would be easy to throw all kinds of poo at this movie, but let’s try the “see no evil” approach first and focus on the positives. Chimpanzee has beautiful cinematography, with footage that obviously was shot under arduous and tedious circumstances. You have to admire the filmmakers for their dedication in capturing this new footage of primate behavior. The baby chimps are adorable (the adults not so much) and you’ll have heartfelt concern for little Oscar after he loses his mother (unless you’ve evolved from a Jaguar that is.) The footage showing the ape’s social organization, human-like tool usage and tribal hunting methods is incredible.

Oscar in ChimpanzeeAs wonderful and amazing as the film work is in this movie, it just seemed like we weren’t seeing or learning anything new here and the movie left me wanting for something a little more scientifically substantial. Some of the story seems so forced that you can’t help but wonder how much of it is real and how much was constructed out of the available footage. Cute baby apes alone are not enough to carry a feature-length movie and because I couldn’t believe & embrace the story being presented, it makes me think that this whole thing would probably have played better as just a documentary on the Discovery Channel.

Parents be warned; in between scenes of little chimps romping around in the jungle, there is a sequence where Oscar’s tribe of apes corral and capture a monkey and devour it. Be prepared to potentially have to explain cannibalism to your child when they ask, “why the monkeys ate the other monkey.” Again, I think this would have worked better as a straight-up documentary instead of a manufactured kid’s movie.

I understand that the Chimpanzee film was not really made for cynical adults like myself, but I don’t think the filmmakers put all the movie pieces together properly in order to hold a child’s attention any better than it did mine.  Will kids like this movie? I think it’s going to be hit & miss depending on their attention span, because in the end, this monkey has a dull shine at best.

If you see the “Chimpanzee” film during its opening week, April 20-26, 2012, for each ticket sold Disneynature will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to protect wild chimpanzees. Or if I talked you out of spending your hard-earned money on this film, you can still help by visiting these links and making a donation or even becoming a Chimp Guardian – just like a real-life Tarzan. Awesome!

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