Chimpanzee Film Review

Oscar as an infant, with a nut in his mouth in 'Chimpanzee'
Oscar as an infant, with a nut in his mouth in 'Chimpanzee' - Photo © Disney

Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

It’s that time of year again. As sure as you can count on the Tax Man wanting his take, you can count on Disney releasing a nature documentary around Earth Day. However, don’t let The Mouse hear you calling Chimpanzee a documentary.

It’s about chimpanzees (did the title give it away?) and follows a troop of the primates over the course of a few years. The star, as one can tell from the trailer, is Oscar. His status as central character is assured because baby animals are cuter and the tragedy that befalls his family makes for a compelling story. This is where the notion of documentary versus narrative comes into play because directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield were more concerned with telling a story than just giving audiences another fly-on-the-wall description of chimp life.

Some may find the manipulation of the story cute, others like myself will find it slightly more on the obnoxious side. Bookended by adorable chimps playing while a dippy song raises the energy level, the tale being crafted is both classic Disney and yet also not what I’d want to show to young kids.

I say classic Disney because it deals with one baby chimp named Oscar losing his mother (a theme evident in nearly every story from the studio) but finding an unlikely adoptive member of the troop. And there are two reasons I wouldn’t want to bring a small child to see this movie (three if you count the price of movie tickets): 1) There are some scenes and themes that are a bit dark and totally at odds with the nature docs that have been the staple of the past few Earth Day releases; 2) It’s BORING.

Not since Jonah Hex has nearly 80 minutes felt so long. Most of the nature docs lately have been vignettes of multiple animals and settings, breaking up the monotony – or come in a running time well under an hour. Here we get to watch these chimps figure out how to break nutshells … then groom each other … then risk a skirmish with a rival troop … then figure out how to break nutshells … then groom each other … then risk a skirmish with a rival troop … and then again figure out how to break nutshells … and then again groom each other … and yet one more time risk a skirmish with a rival troop … If you read all that, I both apologize and hope that the message is sinking in.

Quite honestly, this was one of the least enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had in 2012. This should have just been a bit of light, cute fare for the kids. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in trying to invent some new sub-set of documentary-meets-narrative, the filmmakers have spent a great deal of time and effort delivering a product that shows some of the more aggressive and true-to-life chimp aspects but missed the mark on what audiences have come to expect and want out of these Earth Day releases.

If you’re a parent, some of the scenes may be too harsh for your little ones and others too boring. If you’re a nature enthusiast, Tim Allen’s quips as narrator and the Disney tinkering will be at best irksome, more likely irritating. Taking that into account, with Chimpanzee I suggest just waiting for the footage to get re-used in some future project as is so often the case.


Chimpanzee hits theaters on April 20, 2012 and is rated G.