Hitting theaters tomorrow is “Chimpanzee,” the latest release from Disneynature. I had the opportunity to see the film a couple of weeks ago. How is it? Hold your horses. First a little history.
In 1948, Walt Disney released the very first “True-Life Adventure” Seal Island. This was the first of a series of nature films that the studio released through 1960. In a world without Animal Planet and National Geographic Channel, these films had to have been astonishing at the time. They featured amazing glimpses into the wonders of nature combined with the signature Disney flair for storytelling.
Since then, nature films have become pretty common on television with the aforementioned networks and others dedicated almost solely to wildlife programming. Each program followed the same format. A colorful host goes into the wilderness with a camera crew. As a result, nature programming had become pretty boring. “Yeah, yeah. The Crocodile Hunter found another croc. What else is on?”
Then came “March of the Penguins” and the astonishing mini-series, “Planet Earth.” These took modern filmmaking technology and went back to the old “True-Life Adventure” format of finding the drama in nature. If you haven’t seen these, you have to. In blu-ray. Simply breathtaking. “Planet Earth” was followed up with several spin-off series that were each focused on a specific area of nature. Currently “Frozen Planet” is airing on Discovery channel.
In 2008, Disney partnered with the creators of “Planet Earth” and revived their nature films under the Disneynature banner. They have been releasing new nature films each year. This year’s release is “Chimpanzee.”
“Chimpanzee” follows a group of chimps as they go about their lives deep in the rainforest. The story quickly centers around a baby chimp “named” Oscar. He’s playful and unbelievably cute. We see him trying to learn the ropes for much of the film, but this, being a Disney film, isn’t without its drama. A rival gang of chimps play the villains and show up from time to time to do battle with our hero chimps.
It’s during one of these battles that Oscar loses his mother. It’s not really clear how or what actually happens, but she’s gone. Oscar is on his own and none of the other chimps will help him. Since it’s in the trailer, it’s not really a spoiler to let you know he eventually befriends the old leader of their group, Scar. Scar takes him in and raises Oscar as his own.
“Chimpanzee” is a sweet movie with unbelievable nature photography. Oscar is the star, but Tim Allen does a great job as the narrator. He keeps it fun and entertaining throughout and avoids the somber, serious tones that nature film narrators often have.
The drama mostly works, but it did feel rather forced at times. The chimp battles mostly consisted of chimps running past the camera and trees shaking furiously. It made me wonder if those really happened or if they were created in the editing room. In between these battles, there’s not much variety. There are only so many times you can see chimps cracking nuts before it becomes repetitive. Thankfully the movie was only 75 minutes long and wrapped up just as things were starting to get tedious. The end credits feature making of footage that was easily the most compelling part of the film.
Overall, “Chimpanzee” is another solid entry into the Disneynature lineup and continues the proud legacy of Walt’s original “True-Life Adventures.” You should note that Disneynature has joined forces with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) for a special “See ‘Chimpanzee,’ Save Chimpanzees” program. For every moviegoer who sees “Chimpanzee” during the film’s opening week (April 20-26, 2012), Disneynature will make a donation to JGI through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund in order to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.