Susan Granger’s review of “Chimpanzee” (Disneynature)


    Continuing the Walt Disney Studios tradition of live-action wildlife films, dating back to 1948, this documentary explores the intricate social structure of a tribe of about 35 simians living deep in the Tai rainforest on Africa’s Ivory Coast and their daily struggle for survival in their natural environment.

    The familial story revolves around an adorable youngster named Oscar, whose playful curiosity and enthusiasm for discovery reflect his instinctive intelligence and ingenuity, as his mother, Isha, and white-bearded alpha male leader, Freddy, teach him how to navigate his animal habitat, foraging for food. Oscar learns how to weave a treetop nest out of flexible branches, how to pull a honeycomb from a bee’s nest, and how to make tools, using sticks to stab ants and rocks to crack open nuts, with grooming as an essential social behavior that bonds one animal to another.

    Territorial conflict arises in a grove of fruit trees when Oscar’s family is violently confronted by a rival band of chimps, aggressively led by a sinister alpha male named Scar. Orphaned, Oscar is bewildered and alone, fending for himself, until an unexpected parental figure steps into his life and changes it forever.

    Directed by Alastair Fothergill (“African Cats,” “Earth”) and Mark Linfield (“Earth”), this feature contains an awesome assemblage of remarkable photography, painstakingly gathered over a period of four years with the cooperation of primatologist Jane Goodall’s famous institute.  Scenes of carnage and the pursuit of a high-perching colobus monkey are unfocused and fleeting, primarily referencing rustling leaves, so parents need not worry about traumatizing tykes in the audience.

    Problem is:  Tim Allen’s banal, cloyingly cute narration, which anthropomorphizes the primates, unnecessarily creating some into protagonists and others into villains. While Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” noted that the DNA of humans and chimps is about 98% biologically similar, nevertheless chimpanzees are not human and heavy-handedly presenting them with humanoid personality traits is deceiving.

    On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Chimpanzee” is a heart-warming, family-friendly 7, delivering an inspirational message about the inherent ecological danger in poaching and deforestation.