Review of Chimpanzee

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This film revolves around a 3-year-old chimpanzee whose mother is killed during a food battle and is left to fend for himself. Luckinly, he is eventually adopted by a fully-grown male chimp.
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Movie Review: "Chimpanzee"

--Rating: G
Length: 78 minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2012
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Genre: Documentary

It is fairly rare when a documentary is considered a film that the entire family can not only see but enjoy together. With "Chimpanzee," all ages will come to love the main character, an energetic and slightly mischievous young chimp named Oscar.

Oscar lives in Africa in the jungles of the Ivory Coast with his mother, Isha. This is a real group of chimps, not animal actors and their handlers. The footage was filmed as real-life events took place. It was later edited to shape the story of Oscar and narrated by Tim Allen, who voiced Buzz Lightyear in the "Toy Story" franchise.

Isha and Oscar live well in their group (called a troupe), which is headed by alpha male Freddie. Together, the troupe bands together to gather food and nurture the young like Oscar. They teach them the dangers of the jungle, which are spelled out for the audience. They must sleep high in trees to avoid being attacked by leopards. Snakes and insects are still a threat to them because they can be easily bitten while searching for food.

The food supply is of the utmost importance. Chimpanzees eat a diet rich in nuts and tree fruits. As the supply diminishes and certain seasonal items are no longer available, the troupe must move to a new location where fresh food is plentiful again. This nomadic lifestyle can prove dangerous, as rival chimpanzee troupes may vie for the same food.

In fact, a rival troupe headed by an elder chimp named Scar suddenly wants the same food that Freddie's does. He wages a bloody battle for it, an occurrence that is not uncommon in the wild jungles. The troupe is left in tatters, and Isha is an unfortunate fatality of the short but bloody battle.

Oscar is now without a mother, which is an event that is as sad as any tragedy in a movie featuring humans. By this time, the audience already has a bond with young Oscar and feels the pain of his loss. Oscar tries to cling to one of the other mothers, hoping someone will take him as their own. They all reject him, and he is left to fend for himself in order to survive.

This part of the movie is rather heartbreaking. The fact that all of this is real and simply being filmed and observed by the camera crew makes it even more tear worthy. This sequence of events could be upsetting to young children, although adults may find it just as hard not to get misty over it.

There are a few scenes of violence that may be upsetting to young children as well. When Scar's troupe wages war, they do so quickly and violently. There are also some scenes of monkeys being hunted. Though actual monkey deaths don't happen on the screen, it is implied that several did die.

This may seem like a lot of violence, but the scenes in question take up only a few minutes of time in total. They are no worse than what you would see on your average child-friendly nature show on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet.

To offset the upsetting scenes, the story does have a lot of heartwarming and funny scenes. This film is produced by Disney, so you know that there is likely to be a happy ending. The ending is indeed happy and a bit surprising, especially if you know anything about troupes of chimpanzees and how they generally function out in nature.

Tim Allen is a great choice as a narrator here. He is a seasoned comic actor who can infuse some comedy in the sillier, lighter scenes of Oscar and other baby chimps, who are as adorable as can be. He also shows a little bit of flair for the dramatic with his voice-overs in the aftermath of Isha's death. There is also a great reference to his former hit show "Home Improvement" that fans of that show will surely enjoy.

The directors are seasoned documentary and nature film vets who were an excellent choice for "Chimpanzee." They know how to film and observe without disturbing the natural balance. One of the chimps does keep an eye on them, but other than that the crew is largely ignored. This helps make the film that much more authentic. It is edited together to make it dramatic but the feeling of a real-life jungle and all the perils and triumphs that go with it make a huge impact on the audience, who will likely be hungry for more once the credits roll.