[Review] – Chimpanzee

5 May

Title: Chimpanzee
Year: 2012
Directors: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Writer: –
Starring: Tim Allen
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 77 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 57

Another Earth Day, another film from Disneynature. This time around we get Chimpanzee, which focusses on little Oscar, a lovable and curious baby chimp who lives in the African forest where he hunts and learns how to survive alongside his mother and their tribe of chimpanzees. And you just know this will all be just beautifully shot, which it is, and even though the film goes overboard in how it tries to make the apes feel human to us (it is Disney, after all), the fact is that Chimpanzee does offer a really intimate shot into the lives of these interesting little animals that, while nothing groundbreaking or anything, is a nice enough way to spend a short seventy-seven minutes.

That’s, actually, my main problem with Chimpanzee. That I felt it was just overly Disney-fied, in a way. Everything about the narrative it employs and how it’s told and how these monkeys are shot made me think we were watching something other than a documentary. And that bummed me out a whole lot, I mean we have some truly gorgeous imagery here, footage that we may never ever get again, and this film just insists on pairing it up with a story that feels super artificial and like it’s being pushed down your throat, and with a narration by Tim Allen that did absolutely nothing to make this a better experience than it ended up being. With footage as stunning as this, you could have let that speak for itself.

Yes, these are indeed films that are aimed at kids, so you kind of have to have those super cute shots to make you go aww and you kind of have to anthropomorphize these animals in order to appeal to the young ones in the audience. I get that, I really do. But there’s a balance that could have been achieved here, you could have had all of those things while still have something to appeal to the older moviegoers. And yes, the sheer fact that this one’s as visually stunning as it is counts towards that, and it’s the only reason why I’ll give this one a slight recommending grade, but where they could have delved deeper into the struggle for survival and the social structure of these animals, we instead got a film that could have been animated and passed as a Disney feature.

The story, it must be said, is actually pretty incredible. You see, in a battle with a rival clan of apes, Oscar’s mother is injured and gets separated from the rest, Tim Allen telling us that she then most likely became victim of a nocturnal leopard. So that leaves Oscar alone in the jungle, not yet possessing all the necessary skills to really survive on his own out there, and without his mother to teach them to him. You see little Oscar start kind of losing his touch, looking worse as he looks for a mother he doesn’t seem to realize won’t come back, trying to find another mother figure in his group but to no avail since the other female chimpanzees are too busy with their own kids to take on a new one.

That’s when the film’s uplifting moment starts to happen. As a small miracle of sorts takes place and Freddie, the tough leader of the group, starts warming up to Oscar and eventually lets him ride on his back, something that only mother chimps do and that effectively shows that he’s sort of adopted Oscar as his own. And look, that’s brilliant, if you ask me, that’s a seriously terrific story about something that pretty much never happens and that this time did and best of all it got caught on camera. But then in comes Disney and they try to manipulate it all to the extreme. And I feel bad for knocking on a studio that I actually adore more than most, but I have to be objective here.

Instead of letting you get into that already-compelling story, they start visibly pulling the strings to this story, especially with their handling of that rival clan of chimps. Of course the rival clan made the raid that got Oscar’s mom killed. But, for one, I bet that’s something Oscar’s clan would have done to them as well. And, most annoyingly, Disney tries so hard to make them seem like the super horrible villains of this story, even giving the villain clan’s leader the name of Scar, which you might remember was the name of the evil lion in The Lion King. Not that subtle, I know.

So yeah, I wasn’t as sold on Chimpanzee as I could have been or as I would have liked to be. There are sequences that just show how these chimps live and work that are just so masterfully shot and composed that I would like to see a whole film of just that and I’m sure I would love it. But then these little adorable chimps are given all these hugely unnecessary human qualities to try to make them feel like people, and the narration by Tim Allen is just so in-your-face, literally yelling every time something tense was going on just to drive that point further.

You can say that Disney is trying to get kids to experience these movies, which I would agree is actually a pretty great initiative, and that that’s why they Disney-fy all the characters and try to manipulate the story-telling on display. But I just thought that in Chimpanzee they went totally overboard with that, and that by trying to give the chimps personalities they took away a helluva lot of substance from them. Honestly, if this had just been eighty minutes of those gorgeous landscape shots, and beautiful little moments of chimps just being chimps cracking nuts and such, it would have been a far better movie. However, this film deserves a watch, in part because of those beautiful shots, and also because when it ends you get some behind-the-scenes look at how the filmmakers did this and their reactions, and that’s a better storyline than any this one tries to manufacture.

Grade: B-

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