Current Weather
The Spy FM

‘Chimpanzee’: Oh, The Humanity!

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
April 19, 2012

It’s a classic scenario in sentimental fiction: An adorable orphan humanizes a crusty old codger. “Humanize” might not seem the obvious verb for what happens in Chimpanzee, Disneynature’s latest kiddie documentary. But it’s dead on; this escape to the planet of the apes is anthropomorphic to a fault.

The story, delivered excitedly by narrator Tim Allen, is about a “precious baby boy,” given the only-in-Hollywood tag of Oscar by filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. They call the baby’s mother Isha, and the local chimp patriarch Freddy. The leader of a nearby chimp “mob” that threatens Freddy’s clan is outfitted with the name Scar (although not with Jeremy Irons’ voice).

After Isha’s off-screen death — only partially the fault of Scar and his gang — Oscar is abandoned. None of the other moms in the 35-chimp tribe is prepared to take responsibility for another hungry baby. But before he starves to death, Oscar is adopted by an older male chimp, which is apparently a rare occurrence.

In brief interviews at the movie’s end, the filmmakers say that the story is basically authentic. But even if the narrative’s outline is true, that doesn’t mean the details are accurate. It’s impossible to tell if Allen’s commentary always reflects what the images show.

For example, the movie was shot primarily in the Ivory Coast’s remote Tai Forest. But the filmmakers, who are BBC nature-doc veterans, also worked in Uganda and Gabon. Did the secondary locations yield only the psychedelic time-lapse footage of rain, insects and mutating vegetation? Or are some of the on-screen chimps actually ringers from another jungle altogether?

Such questions make Chimpanzee a frustrating experience for adults. But the movie is designed for kids, who may not mind its oversimplifications, or narration that terms edible leaves “side salad” and makes reference to the chimps’ family photos. And children familiar with Disney cartoons probably won’t balk at the scenes edited to suggest that the chimps are jiving to Caro Emerald’s neo-retro jazz ditty “That Man.”

Yet the movie will be problematic for children as well, and not only because the hero’s mother meets a violent end. The omnivorous chimps don’t consume just the leaves, nuts and pulpy fruit with which the narration has such fun. There’s a sequence, impressively constructed but chilling, in which Freddy’s clan hunts, kills and eats a colobus monkey.

Primate fans who were saddened by Project Nim should be pleased to see chimps at play in their natural habitat in Fothergill and Linfield’s impressively intimate footage. For such viewers, much of Chimpanzee will be a treat. But perhaps the best strategy for enjoying the movie would be to a) leave sensitive tykes at home and b) bring a portable music player to provide an alternative soundtrack. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

3PM to 6PM All Things Considered

All Things Considered

For two hours every weekday, All Things Considered hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block present the program's trademark mix of news, interviews, commentaries, reviews, and offbeat features.

Listen Live Now!

6PM to 7PM Marketplace


Hosted by Kai Ryssdal, award-winning Marketplace is public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.

View the program guide!

7PM to 9PM Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival rivals any Rockabilly/Roots show on the air today, and the host of that program, Jenni Zee, lives and breathes the Rockabilly lifestyle. Her show has drawn the attention of Rockabilly fans the world over.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center