Distributed by Disneynature

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I love animals - I love watching them, interacting with them and learning about them.  Thus, I’ve visited quite a few zoos, read more than my fair share of books about them and watched quite a few television shows and documentaries about them.  One of my favorite shows as a kid was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, where I could see and learn about animals that I might never cross paths with.  When I saw the trailer for Chimpanzee, I was reminded of those Wild Kingdom episodes of my youth and decided I had to check out this film.

            Released just in time for Earth Day, Chimpanzee follows Oscar, a baby chimpanzee just recently born into a chimpanzee tribe living in the nut groves of a Ugandan rainforest.  Oscar and his mother have a decent time of it, snacking on nuts, fruits, insects and the occasional monkey (yes, I said monkey).  Oscar and his mother are inseparable and, at this age, Oscar can do little without her, except find trouble.  He lives in bliss in the tribe led by the alpha male, Freddy, but things are about to change.

            Scar, leader of a rival tribe of chimpanzees, has been eyeing up the grove.  Hoping to take it for his own tribe, he leads his chimpanzees in an attack on Freddy’s tribe.  Unfortunately, Oscar’s mother doesn’t survive and Oscar is forced to fend for himself.  At such a young age, Oscar is not very successful and none of the other females in the tribe are willing to take him on.  Fortunately for Oscar, his luck is about to change.  In a completely unexpected turn of events, Freddy decides to adopt Oscar, raising him as Oscar’s mother once did.

            Oscar is such an adorable baby chimpanzee that there was a collective, “Awww!” from the audience upon his very first appearance on the big screen.  His story, narrated by Tim Allen, is quite interesting and informative for those who know little about the nature of chimpanzees.  Although there were times when you might think that Tim Allen’s delivery and dialogue were over the top or unnecessary, for the most part, his narration added a lot to the visual story and elicited a chuckle or two from members of the audience, myself included.

            The views of the rainforest and the wildlife that inhabit it are breathtaking and so clear and crisp as to be awe-inspiring.  The sounds of the rainforest combined with these breathtaking shots are enough to make the viewer feel as if they are actually ensconced in a tree somewhere in the Ivory Coast watching chimpanzees interacting within their everyday habitat.  There is a beauty to this film that rivals that of the story, but, of course, Oscar’s cuteness shines through to steal the show.

            I’m extremely glad that the makers of this documentary decided to show the true nature of the chimpanzee and not just the cutesy fluff.  I was worried that they would only show the adorable and loving side of the animal and forget to show the aggressive side, prompting certain individuals who saw the film to think that owning a chimpanzee might be a cool thing to do.  There are some that may still try to do just that, but at least this film didn’t sugarcoat things.  There are no gory or gruesome scenes as this film is meant to be viewed by adults and children alike, but the aggression is visible and the results of that aggression are implied if not exactly witnessed in full detail.

            Chimpanzee is one of those films that inspire the viewer to watch until the credits are completed.  If you do so, you will be rewarded with a documentary within the documentary featuring details as to the making of this film and all it entailed.  You will also be treated to a film montage of some of Oscar’s cutest moments.

            I don’t often get to see a great many documentaries in the movie theaters, but I am quite pleased to have seen Chimpanzee.  I thought it an adorable film that brought the viewer a great deal of insight into the daily life of chimpanzees in the wild.  This movie is an excellent teaching tool for kids young and old and I definitely recommend it for animal-loving children.  Viewers who attend the film during the first week of its showing will also help chimpanzees as a portion of the proceeds for that week’s box office take will be donated to the Jane Goodall Institute’s “See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzees” program that helps to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

            Chimpanzee is one of those documentaries that plays like an adventure film, instantly capturing your attention with beautiful cinematography, gorgeous landscapes and that adorable little Oscar.  So engrossed in the action of the film, your kids will never realize they are actually learning something.  I walked away from this film smiling from ear to ear and overheard another audience member remarking that it had been the first time she had paid full price for a movie ticket and actually got her money’s worth.  I found myself nodding in agreement - the ticket to see Chimpanzee was well-worth the money I paid.


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