I should start out with a confession. I am not into animal movies. I have nothing against animals – at all. It’s just the movies about them bug me. Bambi, The Lion King, March of the Penguins – I’m not a fan of any of them. Yes, I understand that each is a feat in filmmaking, but they’re just not my cup of tea. So when I had to sit at a screening event to see Disneynature’s Chimpanzee, I was not any shade of stoked. I sat there, jaded, bitter, and dreading the next 78 minutes. But you know what? I was completely and utterly won over by Oscar, Freddy, and the rest of gang – so much so that we are on a first name basis. This wasn’t just a simple nature documentary about some species of animal. This was an intimate film about parenting, about adoption, about the simple act of survival.
The filmmakers spent three years filming a group of chimpanzees in the Tai forest of Ivory Coast in Africa. Their footage is amazing, capturing chimpanzees in a way we’ve never seen them before. They capture the day-to-day hunt for nourishment that is the chimpanzees’ priority – a process that includes hunting for nuts, berries and, in one instance caught on film, monkeys. But the film keeps a focus on a baby chimpanzee they named Oscar.
We meet Oscar as his mother tends to him, nurses him, and teaches him survival skills; the two share tender, very human-like moments. But at the age of 3, Oscar is orphaned. Now (they allude to this in the film) had Oscar not been rescued by a member of his “tribe” he would have been a goner. Surprisingly, Oscar is adopted by Freddy, the alpha male of the group, who steps up to care for Oscar and raises him as if he was his own. While generally the females are the only ones who do the rearing, Freddy is confident to take on the job. It’s amazing to see. The kind of narrative that the filmmakers had dreamed of catching but had no idea would happen. They lucked out and so did we.
Along the way there is some gorgeous photography along side the very intimate footage of these amazing creatures that includes some time-lapse footage of mushrooms growing and spider webs being woven that still haunt my mind. The only real negative thing I have to say is about the Tim Allen narration. It was far too hokey then it needed to be, but to be honest, watching the amazing footage far outshines Allen’s silly and annoying banter.
With Jane Goodall’s endorsement – and the contribution made to save the chimps in the first week of the theater showing – the educational power of this film, not just about the chimps and their lives, but how powerful a parenting and adoption, are worth the price of admission.
And if you become enchanted by Oscar and Freddy, the companion coffee table book is a must-have. It gives the backstory of the film and a look behind the scenes, which is just as fascinating as the chimpanzees themselves. Plus there is an adorable Oscar stuffed animal that you can get for the kids. You can check out these items here and here.
Find out more about Chimpanzee right here.