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Movie Review: Chimpanzee

Disneynature has built a brand formula that’s hard to beat: their nature documentaries, like this week’s ‘Chimpanzee’ (G), are lavishly shot, family-friendly, and informative yet cute for the younger kids. Oh, and let’s not forget: they have ridiculously adorable animal stars that could have stepped right out of a Disney film.

That formula is on full display in ‘Chimpanzee’, which tells the story of an orphaned youngster named Oscar. Oscar’s life is a happy tale, as he navigates his jungle home with his mom and their group of chimps. But after Oscar is orphaned, he is taken in by a solo male chimpanzee—an unheard-of occurrence–and the two forge a surprising new life together.

Created with the help of Dr. Jane Goodall, ‘Chimpanzee’ offers a rare and extremely detailed look into the lives of these amazing creatures, and the intelligence and bonding onscreen are a delight to watch. The photography is lush and true to the Disneynature brand, things skip along at a spirited pace that holds you to the screen; there’s no scholarly droning here to put you to sleep in your seat. (Recognize the narrator’s voice? It’s Tim Allen.)

The one flaw in all of this? At times, things get a little too cutesy; it’s hard not to imagine the strains of ‘Hakuna Matata’ drifting through the trees. But if the action at times feels too scripted and cutesy to compare with your average nature documentary, the uninhibited joy of Oscar and his family more than makes up for it. And if you’re a parent, you’ll probably appreciate having a nature film that’s both in-depth and entertaining for your kids.

The Earth Day release is more than just coincidence: it’s deliberate timing aimed at raising awareness about the problems facing wild animal populations around the world, and it’s easy for the message to stick when you’re watching an adorable baby chimp cavorting in the trees with his playmates. It’s questionable whether that message will stick with moviegoers once they’ve left the theatres (though Goodall hopes it does). It seems like an odd bit of packaging, but Disneynature seems to be striking the right balance between entertainment and information, and the movie doesn’t come across as heavy-handed or preachy.

One last note: stay through the credits for a bit of making-of footage that actually tells quite a bit more about the jungle environment than the movie itself. I’m a behind-the-scenes junkie, but anyone can appreciate seeing the unique challenges faced by this particular camera team, and it makes it even more astounding to realize that the filmmakers had to overcome so many hurdles to capture such intimate chimp footage in the first place.

Scene Creek

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