Chimpanzee: Alastair Fothergill’s Disney Film













There is sharp clash between images and words, film’s two most basic elements, in Disney’s Chimpanzee, well intentioned, informative nonfiction work.

As a boy and adolescent, I loved those Nature programs with their exotic and alluring footage.  Thus, my conflict when I review “Chimpanzee,” a film that suffers from a severe dosage of cuteness (and sometimes silliness).  Artistically, the feature is flawed, and yet this adventure contains such amazing footage that I recommend to see it.

The film is directed by Alastair Fothergill, who has previously made “African Cats” and “Earth,” co-helmed with Mark Linfield.  The release of this feature is planned as a celebration of Earth Day.

“Chimpanzee” offers an instructive case for filmgoers (and film students) of how to use narration in film. How much of it? What kind? At one point the narration works against and undercuts the effectiveness of the imagery, which, ultimately, in Nature-oriented works, is far more important.

Telling the story of a young, adorable simian named Oscar, Chimpanzee is a typical Disney film about politically correct values, such as individual triumph, family love, and binding (and bonding) ties.

The first reel is promising in offering insights about the animal kingdom and its intelligent and zestful inhabitants.  Through striking, often astonishing imagery, we are introduced to Oscar’s personality, above all his playful curiosity and zest for discovery.  Oscar’s family members, hia
Mom, Isha, and the group’s leader Freddy, know how to maneuver and navigate what seems like a tough, complex forest life.


At first, like others of his kind, humans and simians, Oscar and his fellow mates perceive the world naively, as a joyous playground—sort of a
big Disney amusement park.


Things change, when Oscar’s family is confronted by a rival band, and he is left sad and alone to fend for himself, though not for too long.  This is, after all, a Disney product, and so an ally steps into Oscar’s life and changes his life forever.


The filmmakers claim that “Chimpanzee” is the first film of its kind, which may be true but hard to believe.


There are awesome sequences (or rather moments) of wildlife that actually make you feel as if you yourself are placed in the midst of a rainforest.  As a result, you behold with admiration the incredible sights and sounds on screen, only to be dragged down to another experiential level through Tim Allen’s narration, which is often cute, banal, and even unnecessary.


In its good moments, “Chimpanzee” offers a sense of wonder though the presentation of well-rounded, multi-faceted portraiture of the animals’ rather complex personality and daily conduct, how they change from being tender, sensitive, and playful to being curious and resourceful (as needs arise) all the way to being competitive, angry, and aggressive.


But in addition to being a family adventure film, “Chimpanzee” is also an inspirational message picture, bearing its ideology on its sleeve, hoping that perhaps, after seeing the film, viewers will become more aware of the ecological dangers involved in poaching and deforestation, and will therefore take action to protect and to save the simians, with whom we have so much in common.