Posted August 27, 2012 by Lucian in DVD

DVD Review: Disney’s Chimpanzee (2012)

Still shot from the film, Oscar in the wild
Still shot from the film, Oscar in the wild

DVD Cover

I had someone recommend Disney’s Chimpanzee to me, so I thought I would check out the DVD. The film is from Disney Nature and it’s another of their wildlife documentaries. It tells the story of a young chimpanzee the filmmakers call Oscar and his mother Nisca, as well as other members of the tribe such as the alpha male Freddy, and a nearby rival tribe. Any time a film crew sets out to make a documentary they have to hope something interesting and compelling happens that makes their movie worth watching. In this case, the filmmakers got to witness something truly incredible that raises this film to the upper echelon of nature documentaries. Had things turned out differently the entire film would probably have been scrapped. Instead, it’s a miraculous tale I’m more than glad I watched.
The film is narrated by Tim Allen. He does a decent job but there is a certain sense that you are watching “How I Met Your Monkey” and yes I know chimps are not technically monkeys but the pun was too good to pass up. There’s some nice fast motion sequences to show the march of life in the jungle, which becomes almost a character in itself. If you love looking at nature nearly untouched by humankind you’ll enjoy watching this simply for the setting.

Chimps may be our closest relatives evolutionary speaking but too often we think of them as perfect gentle creatures. This film shows they are nothing like that. Neighbouring tribes exist in a perpetual state of war; and the omnivorous chimps are not above hunting monkeys for food. We tend to lump chimps and monkeys together in our minds so there’s a nasty hint of cannibalism here. This is a Disney film, these are not Disney characters. The alpha males of both tribes must constantly worry a new rival will rise up and challenge them for dominance. The battles between these tribes can quickly turn deadly. Freddy’s tribe is smaller, with fewer males, and it makes them the underdog and easy to root for. Oscar may be cute but his environment is fraught with peril and a both tribes face a never-ending struggle to simply find enough food to survive. About the only thing we don’t see is any mention of sex or breeding. Is the alpha male the only chimp allowed to sire offspring? Or do others get a chance? Without spoiling too much it would be interesting to know if Oscar is Freddy’s child. But perhaps even the film crew didn’t know. It’s the one drawback of this being from Disney, no chimps doing the nasty.
The film is guilty of anthropomorphism at times. Beyond simply giving the chimps names the film too often tells us what the chimps are thinking. But it’s impossible to know if these chimps possess the level of consciousness the film imbues them with. We can observe behaviour but we can’t see into these creatures’ minds. Are they acting on instinct alone, or is there something more? I leave that to the biologists to ponder.

A few gimmicks hurt the film. The soundtrack is one of the big ones. I didn’t mind the instrumental music, but as soon as I heard lyrics it pulled me out of the film. Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often. Despite a lean 78-minute run-time the film uses every second. When watching a film like this one of the most common questions is “How on Earth did they film this?” The last minutes of the film, including the credits, let us in on the secret. I really appreciated this additional information and it made me respect the people behind the film even more. Jungles can be dangerous, even potentially deadly, to humans as well as the jungle’s normal residents. Snakes, bees and plenty more plagued this shoot and it’s amazing they were able to collect the footage they did get.

As I said, this was recommended to me, and it’s not the kind of film I would normally watch. But with such a wonderful and uplifting message at its core I think this film would appeal to people who would not normally consider watching a nature doc. Check out chimpanzee. It may not always be pretty but it should leave you with a smile on your face.

A still from the film, a cameraman at work in the jungle

Note: All photos taken from Yahoo.com