The adorable “Chimpanzee” is another Disney film, so you know what that means? Somebody's mom must die.
Parents of young children will be pleased to know that no chimpanzees get abused by humans and no humans get abused by chimpanzees in Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee.”
However, the film continues the Disney “tradition” of killing a parent. From “Bambi” to “The Lion King,” the studio has made a practice of offing mom or dad — or both — in its cartoons. Why not continue the custom in a documentary? It does provide the lead character with sympathy.
In this case, the “lead character” is a real-life baby chimpanzee named Oscar, who loses his mother after an attack by a rival “gang” of chimps. Without mom and ignored by the other mothers in his troop, Oscar appears doomed. Until something amazing happens.
Spoiler alert, in case your 4-year-old is reading this review. Freddy, the troop’s Alpha male, adopts Oscar. We’re told this is highly unusual in chimp society. I do have one question. The film never says who Oscar’s father is. Since the Alpha male has been known to impregnate a female or two, couldn’t Freddy be Oscar’s father? Would it matter? Do the kids watching the film care? Hey, I’m just asking.
The film should appeal to young children because Oscar is so gosh-darn cute, and he does the cutest things in the cutest ways. The operative word here is “cute.” If it’s possible to OD on cuteness, this film provides the syringe.
But the movie’s cuteness isn’t its main problem. It’s Tim Allen’s hambone narration and rampant anthropomorphism. The rivals to Freddy’s troop are referred to as “thugs” and led by a chimp named Scar. Seriously? Granted, the chimp has a messed-up mug only a mother could love, but giving the “villain” the same name as the treacherous lion in “The Lion King”? Why not have his thoughts voiced by Jeremy Irons? “I am the sinister simian.”
Do children really need good guys vs. bad guys to dramatize nature? Nature provides its own drama. Animals fight over territory all the time. So do humans. You’ll find few history books referring to Americans as “thugs” as they confiscated American Indian land.
It’s a shame because “Chimpanzee” is gorgeous to look at with spectacular scenery compliments of the jungles of the Ivory Coast and Uganda. We see a rain forest shrouded in mist, a network of majestic waterfalls and glow-in-the-dark plants. Where’s my point-and-shoot?
The chimps are also fascinating to watch as they use “tools” such as sticks to get at “tasty” insects and rocks to crack open nuts. And look out, vegetarians, chimps eat meat as the film shows them setting an elaborate trap to capture monkeys.
For humor, we see chimps making rookie mistakes when using their tools, such as banging their toes with a rock.
Page 2 of 2 - How the filmmakers captured all these scenes boggles the mind. Kudos to directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the creative team behind “Earth.” They even managed to keep views of the chimps’ “naughty bits” to a minimum. This is a G-rated film after all.
Stick around for the ending credits as they show the filmmakers in action dealing with less than ideal conditions. “There are easier ways to make a living,” says one, “but they’re not as much fun.”
The ending credits also contain a piece of information that should have been shown in the opening credits, considering how many moviegoers leave the theater the instant they see the words “The End” flashed on the screen. The film notes how the numbers of chimpanzees in Africa have shrunk from more than 1 million in 1960 to less than 200,000 today.
Yes, that’s far from cute but children, even at a young age, should know that chimpanzees need protection from a foe much more dangerous than Scar. And that foe is us.
“Chimpanzee” opens today.