Chimpanzee has almost a nostalgic charm
A documentary by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. Rated G.
It’s fallen out of favour for animal documentaries to work too hard at anthropomorphizing their subjects. But it must have been difficult for Disney to resist in the case of Chimpanzee: as we watch its tiny subject, Oscar, receive kisses in his mother’s arms or struggle determinedly to use tools to crack nuts, it’s striking how incredibly humanlike the creature can be.
The film, narrated in warm, colloquial tones by Tim Allen, takes a storybook approach to the tale of the young chimp. And so it is that deep in a faraway, gorgeously shot—and unnamed—African jungle, a baby is born. He’s a curious little guy who loves to swing from vines and cuddle with his mother in the rain. The movie has captured uncountable cute, if Disneyfied, moments, usually set to silly music. At one point, a brood of baby chimps swings around above their parents, who are trying to nap, and you’d swear one mother is sighing and rolling her eyes.
But suddenly Oscar finds himself alone. And it’s here that filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield really have scored a coup: Oscar eventually is helped by an unexpected ally, one that defies previous scientific understanding about chimp behaviour, and it’s a fascinating turn of events.
Chimpanzee also has its own group of bad guys, a rival tribe ruled by a villain who even has a Lion King–worthy name: Scar. And this is the point when this context-free tale starts to nag at you. After all, we adults know that Oscar’s biggest threats are not the creatures who swing from vines.
Chimpanzee seems to inhabit its own storybook universe, isolated from the world. This hits home during the credits, when we see footage of the filmmakers battling poisonous snakes and strangling foliage. They’ve edited out all of that hardship to present their polished little tale. Chimpanzee has almost a nostalgic charm to it, but Project Nim it ain’t.
Watch the trailer for Chimpanzee.