Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Writers: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield, Don Hahn
Synopsis: Disneynature’s new documentary follows the life of an energetic yet vulnerable young chimp, Oscar, living deep within the Taï rainforest.
Introducing children to the natural world may be a daunting prospect for a parent – it’s full of copious mating, fights to the death, and often nightmarish imagery. Whilst David Attenborough’s seminal series of wildlife documentaries are not to be missed, they are not always toddler-friendly. In response to this Disney have created a new independent film label – Disneynature – to show the twee aspects of animal life, as well as some of the perils.
Being a Disney product, Chimpanzee is decorated with many darling elements, such as bouncy music, funny recordings of animals falling or hitting one another, and scenes of tenderness. As well as this, they also introduce a narrative not-so-dissimilar to their animal-led classics such as The Lion King, The Fox and the Hound and The Jungle Book, with villains roaming and danger lurking. Showing a story unravel, and having characters and a “plot” to follow will inevitably make this easier for the little ‘uns; it promotes the basics of story-telling and simplistic ethics – “acts of evil and good appear like this, or like this”.
The story of the chimpanzee protagonist, Oscar, was supposed to follow his early life with his mother and nothing much more. However, mid-way through the shoot Oscar’s mother sadly died and the filmmakers recorded something miraculous happens – his adoption by the alpha-male of the group. This is Disney’s serendipitous injection of joy and hope into the film and it works wonders. Unfortunately, this event happens very late in the movie and the focus on it is not that extensive. There are a few moments where Oscar learns different tricks of the trade, and these suffice as fillers to a quite average chronicle.
We also continually crossover to the villainous chimp tribe, led by Scar (another discernible Disney reference), who, when coming into contact with Oscar’s family, can never be told apart. Without the forbidding score and occasional displays of rage, there is a lack of tension. Perhaps it’s diluted due to the documentary’s demographic but it’s certainly short of the drama in their fictitious films. Having some disequilibrium is required and welcomed, though better execution of such scenes could have improved the momentum.
Overall, it runs for the correct amount of time, especially with regard to the kids’ attention-span. For the adults it impresses with some often astounding cinematography (centred on the landscape and wildlife rather than the chimps) and the odd funny quip from narrator Tim Allen. It’s a loving portrait of an innocent animal and a relatively-new side to Disney that leaves their next venture, Bears, something to look forward to.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth