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by Brett Gallman

"A True Life Adventure for the 21st century."
3 stars

Recent films like “King Kong” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” have allowed us to marvel at the humanity that’s been infused into their CGI primates. “Chimpanzee” is a slight little reminder from Disney Nature of how human-like these creatures naturally are, and they’ve even brought Tim Allen along as a narrator just in case you didn’t get it.

Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield provide a glimpse into the lives of chimpanzees in the jungles of the Ivory Coast; their main subject is Oscar, a pint-sized newborn who endures various growing pains as his pack of extended family protects its territory from a rival pack--and since this is Disney, this more aggressive group are headed up by an alpha male named Scar.

“Chimpanzee” is light and breezy, but it taps into our natural fascination of animals that are so much like us. In fact, you wonder why the documentary goes out of its way to further anthropomorphize them. Fothergill and Linfield intimately allow us to simply observe these chimps as they interact during their daily routines of foraging and nurturing. Watching Oscar learn the ins and outs of this existence is neat, and Allen’s narration often brings both a folksy warmth and corny humor, especially when it attempts to presume an inner monologue for the chimps.

Eventually, a lean and charming narrative emerges when we’re also reminded of how unforgiving and unrelenting this natural world can be, and Oscar is suddenly left to fend for himself. This turn of events left me to ponder just how these animals process death and loss; it’s difficult enough for our own young to do so, and our empathy is firmly with Oscar during these trials. What follows is the film’s most remarkable concept, as it again had me considering how our own species would react. Something tells me we could learn a lesson from the altruism on display here, where the strongest members of the pack shelter and foster the weakest.

The effortless nature of “Chimpanzee” is noteworthy; though it was in production for nearly four years, the final product is an tidy and swift slice-life-peer into one monumental event for its subject. Its refusal to step outside its immediate concerns and gloss over mankind’s destruction of these areas might be a snagging point for some. That said, the area is beautifully captured with some stunning images that allow us to hover over the canopies before dropping into the dense, floral jungles in often mesmerizing fashion. Some time-lapse segments prove to be especially hypnotic. With such clarity and pop, “Chimpanzee” provides a good argument that 3D is superfluous since this often leaps off of the screen in dazzling, immersive fashion, all in two glorious dimensions.

A brief behind-the-scenes look during the credits will breed a further appreciation for the crew’s difficulties during production are muted and masked in the final cut. “Chimpanzee” is a steady and smooth effort that rarely feels like a documentary, especially since the “good chimps vs. bad chimps” conflict is foisted upon the narrative.

As such, “Chimpanzee” is natural link in Disney's family friendly evolutionary chain. I suspect it will coax laughter and coos from its target audience; I never saw a trailer for it, but I imagine the words "heartwarming" and "journey" would be in there somewhere, and I'd be loath to disagree if that's the case.

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originally posted: 04/21/12 13:23:21
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  20-Apr-2012 (G)
  DVD: 21-Aug-2012


  DVD: 21-Aug-2012

Directed by
  Alastair Fothergill
  Mark Linfield

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