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April 19, 2012

Disneynature's Chimpanzee and You: A Review

Chimpanzee-oscar-disneyThis weekend we will celebrate Earth Day, and by "we" I mean the whole planet, because we all keep our stuff here. There is also a sporting chance that Earth Day 2012 may be the last Earth Day, only the Mayans know for sure, and as such we should party like it's 1999 the end of the world as we know it. Do people party on Earth Day? They should.

Not one to miss out on the synergy, the good people at Disney, more specifically, Disneynature, are opening their new film Chimpanzee to coincide with your Earth Day festivities (Chimps like Earth, too!). In fact, if you see Chimpanzee this opening weekend Disneynature will make a contribution to the Jane Goodall Institute in your honor. Their tagline is "see Chimpanzee, save chimpanzees," and it's catchy. No word on what happens if you see the film later in the week. I supposed those primates are on their own. Hopefully they can hold out until the Blu-ray tie-in.

Chimpanzee is the fourth film from Disneynature (a label launched in 2008 and the first new Disney-branded movie arm in over 60 years) and follows in the footsteps of Walt Disney himself, who was also a primate. He won eight Academy Awards for his True-Life Adventure movies such as Beaver Valley (I know), The Living Desert, and Jungle Cat.

The first three Disneynature releases: Earth, Oceans, and African Cats are among the highest grossing nature films of all time. Take that, Jaws 3.

Basically, Disneynature knows what it is doing, and it does it well.

The remainder of this post contains potential spoilers, but I've included them as I think parents may want to know what to expect during the film.

Chimpanzee is about, obviously, real chimpanzees in the wild, but what it is really about is family and the special bond between a parent and child. You know what I'm talking about.


Of course, it wouldn't be a proper Disney film if a parent didn't die, and spoiler alert, the mother of Oscar, the young chimp who is the star of the film, does just that. This was, according to the filmmakers, Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield, Alix Tidmarsh, and Don Hahn, nearly the end of the movie. More importantly, it was almost the end of Oscar.

Turns out that a baby chimp without a mommy is out of luck. This is where you, the viewer, need to make sure you are not out of tissues, because there are a lot of tears in the jungle and most of them came from the woman in the seat next to me. The people seated next to you may vary.

Here's where things take an amazing turn: Oscar, who is knocking on death's door, is adopted. This is a relief to everyone involved in the film as the crew is unable to intervene in the consequences of nature, and had Oscar perished they would have stood there and let the circle of life do its thing. It was even more of a relief to Oscar.

An even more amazing thing is who adopts him. Oscar is adopted by a single male, a gray-haired curmudgeon who has a troupe of chimpanzees to save, land to fight for, and Guilder to frame for it. He's swamped.*

And then we have a new bond between a parent and a child, and it is all the more special for even existing.


Is Chimpanzee okay for kids? Chimpanzee is rated G, and for the most part it is cute and charming, but there is a bit of violence between two groups of chimps that plays a major role in the film, including the (assumed) death of Oscar's mother. Most of it is implied through suspense, quick cutaways, and Tim Allen's narrative of the aftermath, but it is still prevalent enough that you may want to prepare children prior to seeing the movie.

There is also a fairly intense scene in which the chimpanzees hunt monkeys — I didn't even know they did that, and it's pretty raw and somewhat gruesome.

Will kids like Chimpanzee? I can't answer that for you, but I think most kids will like parts of it. I had the opportunity to take my boys to a screening, but I declined. That's not to say that I didn't find the film fascinating when I viewed it, but rather, I know my own kids and their attention span for such things (which is much shorter than the movie) and their tolerance for suspense and violence. Unlike other films where I can soothe them with words of make-believe and comfort, in watching Chimpanzee they would be all too aware of the reality that Oscar faces, and, frankly, they would not like it. But that's them.

However, I do think Chimpanzee is worth seeing, and should be seen. I know that my kids will fall in love with Oscar, and I intend to let that happen, but they will just have to wait until Chimpanzee is available to own — then they can move through the movie at their own pace. I too, do not care to intervene in the consequences of nature.

Overall, I applaud Disneynature on what they are doing, both as filmmakers and as a force in conservation. The work they have done, and continue to do, with Chimpanzee and their other films is impressive and important.

Will you see Chimpanzee over Earth Day weekend?


If you would like a family activity book or educational packets for Chimpanzee visit the official Chimpanzee media page.

Disneynature's Chimpanzee opens on Friday, April 20.

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22.

I was Disneynature's guest at a screening of Chimpanzee for the purpose of this review. My opinions are my own.

All photos and embedded media are courtesy of Disneynature.

*Paraphrased from The Princess Bride, but you knew that


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