‘Chimpanzee’ less-than-extraordinary animal fare

Christopher K. Conner

By A Contributor

There is something I have to get off my chest. I am addicted to science and nature programs. Both have been a major part of my video entertainment as far back as I can remember.

My mother, brother and I would gather around the console TV to watch “Nova,” “Wild Kingdom,” “Those Amazing Animals” and as much BBC nature programming as public television could smuggle in.

I still spend more time watching Discovery Science than anything else.

Nature programs produced for television fit a few basic molds, one of which is narration over action. In these programs an unusually bored sounding narrator explains the activities and motivations of the animals. Disney Nature’s “Chimpanzee” is cast from this mold.

Unless there is some kind of gimmick involved (IMAX or 3D come to mind) it is rare for a pure nature movie to make it to the big screen.

While I enjoy the content of movies like “Chimpanzee,” my exposure to nature programs has made me a bit hard to impress, mostly because I’ve already seen most of the behaviors on other shows. Without the advantage of being exposed to something new, I merely stay comfortable in the familiar information presented. That alone does not make for a particularly exciting movie experience.

  “Chimpanzee” is a fairly short chronicle of a baby chimpanzee from a few weeks to a few months of age. Most of the plot is given away in the advertisements, so it is no spoiler to say that the baby, Oscar, loses his mother and is adopted by an unlikely parent. 

  As expected, there is plenty of amusing and interesting behavior to see, though little of it is new. A good deal of time is spent showing tool selection and use as well as other demonstrations of the chimps manipulating their environment. 

  Where the advertising misleads is that there is a significant portion of the story that follows this adoption.  

  “Chimpanzee” is a short film, something like 76 minutes, and for all the lead up, the adoption of Oscar doesn’t feel as significant as it was sold.

  Knowing something of chimpanzee behavior I realize the adoption of an orphan chimp is significant by its self, and the adoptive parent in this case is probably unique, but the movie does not adequately convey this. The narrator (Tim Allen) does mention how this relationship is unusual, but that is not the same as demonstrating how unusual it is.

  The anthropomorphism of the narration was almost annoying at points, and I spent the first part of the film tensely waiting for Allen to do his ape routine. Once he did a subdued version, and I was able to relax a bit. Still, the script was trite and dull and Tim Allen makes a very poor David Attenborough.

  For someone that consumes as much nature programming as I do, “Chimpanzee” does not deliver an unusually interesting experience. I do think that the film presents an interesting, if overly dramatized through narration and editing, view into the lives of a chimpanzee troop. The story of Oscar is compelling on its own, and there is plenty of cute to keep animal lovers interested.

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