Continuing in the recent tradition of Disney releasing a new film under the Disney Nature banner every year on Earth Day, Chimpanzee arrives in multiplexes this weekend with the approval of the Jane Goodall Institute and the inception of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund which will benefit from a portion of the opening week grosses of the film. Like the studio’s efforts from the past few years (Earth, Water, African Cats), the film might be treading on ground well worn by the likes of National Geographic, but its heart’s in the right place.
Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield (and to a lesser extent narrator Tim Allen) get up close and personal with a group of chimpanzees living in the jungles of the Ivory Coast. The focal point of the film becomes the newborn Oscar, as he adapts to life and the hierarchy of the jungle. In too obviously a nod to past Disney films, the group finds themselves encroached upon by an aging alpha male from a different sect of chimps named Scar that threatens to wipe them out and take over their nut grove.
The storyline itself is pure dramatic fabrication, of course. We don’t know what Oscar’s crew did to get that nut grove for themselves in the first place. But that’s all beside the point. Fothergill and Linfield do manage a lot of hard-to-get shots (the difficulty of which is documented over the credits in somewhat painful detail), and they succeed in showing how chimps are the closest primate relatives to humans. The intelligence shown by these animals can be remarkable to watch.
Even so, the film does get a bit repetitive at times, which will lead to the little ones getting a bit squirmy in their seats. There’s only so many times Fothergill and Linfield can talk about chimps using rocks as tools for nutcracking while Tim Taylor goes on about their resourcefulness. Despite their limited theatrical runs, maybe it’s time for these films to start going straight to DVD where they might actually find bigger audiences. In the end, it’s the thought that counts when it comes to this type of film.
So with that in mind, if you want to help support chimpanzees or would like more information on the Jane Goodall foundation (in Canada) or how seeing the film in its opening week will help the plight of primates in the wild, head on over to janegoodall.ca.