Can we all just collectively admit that monkeys are just the best? Not only are they hilarious, but also they masterfully embody elements of humankind—reminding us of all the areas we have evolved in as a species, yet also all the areas where we have remained unfortunately stuck.
So this makes Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee” an almost-surreal viewing experience, as a collection of charismatic chimps mirror back the good, the bad, and the ugly of our species, from the brightness of love to the darkness of violence.
After bringing us high definition looks at “Earth,” “Oceans,” and “African Cats,” Disneynature takes an intimate, gorgeously filmed glimpse into the life of a growing baby chimp named Oscar, the monkeys in his clan, and the striking African forest in which they dwell. It’s a brisk, rarely boring 78 minute expedition that does what filmmaking ultimately should do—capture images on a camera we may have never seen before.
And from the stunning time-lapse photography of the miracles nature can do just overnight, or the giddy shots of chimps at their most primal or playful nature, directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield both play the documentarian role well. They capture exactly what they must to tell a complete story—one that includes heroes, villains, suspense, and heartbreak.
A rival gang of chimps, led by the hilariously named “Scar,” constantly threaten Oscar and company, leading to a tragic occurrence which may draw the line for some parents wanting to take young children to see the film (think “Bambi,” but in real life).
But where the film goes from here is a special, beautiful kind of route I was not expecting. While I saw humankind reflected constantly in the actions of these chimps, it wasn’t until “Chimpanzee’s” final minutes where I was actually proud and admirable of this fact.
My only problem with the film lies in its cheesy narration, which myself and two other critics thought was being recited by George Clooney until the end credits revealed it was actually Tim Allen (he should be honored by our mistake). With corny one-liners like “This is Freddy, and he’s large and in charge” or commentary that reminded me of the awful voiceover shtick Bob Saget used to do on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” Allen’s narration is there to hold our hands and spoon feed us information when really, his efforts are entirely unnecessary.
Combine the brilliant editing by Andy Netley, original music by Nicholas Hooper, and the spirited performance of the chimps, and “Chimpanzee” is already a fascinating silent film starring monkeys. I constantly felt like I could have muted the narration and been equally entertained, if not more so. But if you can live with Buzz Lightyear reading off hackneyed monkey jokes, “Chimpanzee” is a worthy watch indeed.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.