‘Chimpanzee’ a wonderfully sweet documentary

By Emily Merlino


Disneynature has kept up their winning streak with “Chimpanzee,” a wonderfully sweet documentary about the little chimp that could.

Anyone with a soft spot for animals will be hard pressed not to let out an audible squeal at the sight of Oscar, a baby chimpanzee who, like a number of Disney’s fictional characters, has been orphaned.

Oscar lives in the Ivory Coast’s Tai Forest, a lush, verdant rainforest. His mother, Isha, is killed in a vicious chimpanzee raid at the beginning of the movie, leaving cuddly baby Oscar all alone.

“Chimpanzee” anthropomorphizes its characters and their plight, which, all theories about animals and their emotions aside, makes it impossible not to get wrapped up in the chimps’ saga, especially when one remembers that chimpanzees share 98 percent of the human genetic code. Sometimes this can get a bit cheesy; a villainous rogue chimpanzee is named Scar, obviously, and the macho male leader of Oscar’s group is given the quintessential good-guy moniker Freddy.

Still, when Oscar’s big brown ones peer out at you from the screen, it’s pretty darn hard to roll your own. The plight of this poor chimp isn’t sugar-coated by the directors, Alistair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, who show the animal’s own family rejecting him after he is orphaned and a baby Oscar growing bony and dirty without his mother there to groom him.

It’s even harder to remain cynical at the ending, which, without spoiling anything, is probably the sweetest act of Disney kindness since Kala adopted Tarzan.

Fothergill and Linfield do a remarkable job of keeping traditional Disney themes and goofy, kid-friendly humor (the movie is narrated by Tim Allen) without giving up the purpose of showcasing the beauty of nature and its significance.

The technical brilliance of “Chimpanzee” cannot be ignored. “Chimpanzee” is stunningly photographed, although, to be fair, the vast landscape of the Tai Forest couldn’t possibly take a bad photo. However, Fothergill and Linfield, who also directed the beautiful Disneynature film “Earth” together, utilize time-lapse photography, which transforms a single mundane leaf in a massive rainforest into a powerful symbol of beauty.

“Chimpanzee” is rated ‘G’ and is entirely devoid of any crass language or themes, but very young children might become upset at some of the scenes that depict what adults (and fans of “The Lion King”) have accepted as the circle of life. For example, the chimpanzees visibly eat monkeys and Isha’s death isn’t casually glossed over. For this reason, “Chimpanzee” should be seen by children of age six and older.

Despite the movie’s ‘G’ rating, nobody in the theater was under the age of 10 and not a single person left without a smile on their face.

Emily Merlino can be reached at [email protected]