I guess I’m just not that interested in chimps. I had quite a bit of difficulty staying awake during Disney’s new nature film, “Chimpanzee.” I like nature documentaries, and this particular one had some spectacular shots. The film is beautifully done; these filmmakers put themselves through hell to bring us films like this. I have nothing but respect for them, and if anyone is deserving of a documentary, it’s these guys. The footage of the chimpanzees themselves is very personal and intimate, which must have taken great skill and patience.
But I still found myself nodding off. If it wasn’t for the relatively frequent, extremely loud, terrifying chimp battles, I might have missed most of the film. I just don’t know how much grooming, nut-eating, yawning and knuckle-walking a film really needs. As cool as the apes are in short bursts, an hour and a half is a little much. This doesn’t make it a bad film, just one that didn’t hold my attention.
“Chimpanzee” is very much geared towards younger viewers. The film is narrated by famed ape impersonator Tim Allen, who tells the story as something of a fairy tale. It follows the lives of a young chimp named Oscar and his mother, as they try to make a life in the African jungles of Uganda and the Ivory Coast. The heroes of the story belong to a group of apes who patrol and protect their territory, forage for food, and do other apelike things.
Much time is spent watching Oscar mimic the adults in the group, learning how to make break nuts, prepare food, make shelter and become part of the group. As with most fairy tales, the villains live outside the territory and are jealous of our heroes. An older group of males, led by a large older chimp named Scar, wants to annex an important nut grove within Oscar’s territory. This leads to violent clashes, making Oscar an orphan. Amazingly, Oscar is adopted by the alpha male of the group, a behavior never before observed in chimpanzee society.
If any of that interests you, then by all means go see “Chimpanzee.” Tim Allen meanders through reading the script he was given, occasionally peppering the tedium with bland jokes and his trademark grunt. I might have been more entertained if he had used more of his own material (although this might not have been safe for the intended audience).
The scenery of the film is amazing. In fact, if this film had focused on the beautiful intricacies of the jungle it might have really been something. I love the night shots—the bioluminescent flora and fauna was like something out of “Avatar,” only this was created by nature and not James Cameron. But the chimps didn’t seem to do much. I never felt the intended emotional attachment to them. I might as well have been watching birds in my backyard. Younger viewers, no doubt, would be drawn into the film by Oscar’s antics. But it never really grabbed me.
Part of it may be that the cute factor of the chimpanzee was shattered for me when a woman in Connecticut was horribly disfigured by one being kept as a pet. I personally find the creatures more frightening than lions, tigers or bears. They are deceptively human enough to appear nonthreatening. I don’t understand why we feel the need to invent stories about Bigfoot when these animals are so very real. They are fearsome and proud, powerful and dangerous. I don’t know that showing them as cute and cuddly does them any favors. The best thing we can do to protect the species is to leave them alone.
Those interested in the subject should know that some of the proceeds from this film during the first week will go towards the Jane Goodall Foundation, which helps protect chimpanzees and their habitat. This is a noble cause, to be certain. I just hope Disney does something good with the rest of the money.