Chimpanzee: a Robwrite Review

You'll go ape for this wonderful film


Every once in a while, a film comes along that makes you feel good, and when you walk out of the theater, you leave with a smile. Chimpanzee is one of those rare gems. This is a fantastic family film and the best nature documentary to come along since March of the Penguins.

The making of this film was an act of serendipity. It began as a primate documentary filmed for the Jane Goodall Foundation but when an unexpected turn of events among the group of apes was recorded on film, the crew knew they had the making of a great film. Disney Studios agreed with them and thus Chimpanzee hit the screens.

This film is not only heartwarming, it's also beautifully photographed, and it will leave you wondering "How did they get that shot on camera?" Best of all, despite being a documentary, this film has an actual plot, which occurred organically. The story here is more interesting than most Hollywood screenplays.

The plot follows two groups of chimpanzees; one led by the large, mighty chimp 'Freddy' and the other by equally large and very aggressive 'Scar'. The two chimp clans live in bordering territories, both of which are running short of food. However, in Freddy's zone there is a sizable nut grove that can sustain his group, as well as a fresh water supply. In Scar's territory, the nuts and berries have been picked clean and so the rival group is making hostile moves toward Freddy's territory. The film is clear regarding who it wants us to root for. Scar's group is alternately described by narrator Tim Allen as "an army", "a mob" and even "thugs". Freddy is definitely the hero here.

But neither of the two alpha-apes is the main character of the film. Our protagonist is a baby chimp named 'Oscar'. The tiny primate is learning the ways of the jungle from his mother. She teaches her son helpful survival tricks, such as using a stone instead of a stick to break open a nut. (Who knew how hard it was for Chimps to crack open jungle nuts?)

The first half hour of the film depicts the daily lives of Freddy's tribe, as they forage for food and fight off attacks by Scar and his "thugs". Meanwhile, Oscar continues to learn from his mom. However, things take a sudden sad twist when mom dies after one of Scar's attacks and little Oscar is suddenly an orphan. Under other conditions, Oscar might have been adopted by one of the other females but in this case--due to the shortage of food and the threat by Scar's clan--the other chimp females are preoccupied with caring for their own young and don't have time to look after little orphan Oscar.

Unable to fend for himself, things look bad for poor Oscar until he gets the idea to follow along behind alpha-male Freddy. After all, Freddy gets the best food and always eats first. Freddy reluctantly accepts this little nuisance following him around. Oscar learns 'Monkey-see, monkey-do' style, imitating Freddy. And then the amazing thing happens...Big Freddy puts little Oscar up on his back (something mother chimps do with their young) and basically adopts the young orphan. This is an almost unheard-of thing among chimps, since male chimpanzees see other males as future potential rivals. Astonishingly however, Freddy takes Oscar under his wing and looks after him, training him as his alpha-heir. (Nothing like this has ever been caught on film before.)

While all this is good news for Oscar, there is a down-side to it. Freddy's preoccupation with his adopted son causes him to neglect his border patrols, which emboldens the agressive Scar. Scar's clan begins their invasion into Freddy's territory, leading to a final knock-down, drag-out battle between the two alpha apes, reminiscent of one of those hero-vs-villain climaxes in a Hollywood film. Can Freddy drive off his rival or will Oscar lose another parent?

The film alternates between drama, humor, sadness, suspense, excitement and feel-good moments. The film crew brilliantly captures the action (and a closing-credits sequence shows us how they got these great shots) and the apes are irresistibly appealing. You'll love little Oscar and you'll be rooting for our hero Freddy to save the day.

Great rated-G family fare.

Very highly recommended.


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Comments 10 comments

Flora Breen Robison 4 years ago

I love nature documentaries and will definiately look out for this film since you have given it five out of five stars. I am fascinated by the similarity between us and primates. I saw Jane Goodall on The daily show and she said that the first week tickets go to her foundation-so if people can get to a theatre the first week, that is the best time to see it. I will be upset watching that scene she discussed where the mother is killed, but when Oscar is tended by the leader of the group, I will recover to watch it.

I so rarely go to see films before the awards season starts, but this is one I would want to see in the theatre instead of waiting or it to come out on DVD.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Flora. Great to hear from you. This is such a wonderful film, you won't regret seeing it. (And if it makes you feel better, mom dies off-screen, so you don't actually see her killed. This is a Disney family film, after all.)

I saw Jane Goodall on the Daily Show, too. I made sure I went the first week so that my money would go to her foundation (I wonder if she gets all of the first weeks profits or only a percentage?)

This film is a real treat. Don't miss it.

Always good to hear from you Flora,


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Rob, good review. I have never heard of this movie and to be honest I would not head out to see something like this at the cinema but I will certainly look out for it on the movie channels when it gets there.

It's amazing to think that the producers ended up with a movie they didn't really set out to make but it sounds like it has all the hallmarks to be a popular family movie.

Voted up etc.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Jools; They got lucky with this film (although Oscar's mother wasn't so lucky, poor thing) being in the right place at the right time.

If you're not a fan of nature films than you probably won't be interested in this. But if you enjoy Animal Planet or the National Geographic Channel, this is right up your alley. Personally, I love it.

Thanks for reading,


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

Good review. Now it's a must-see for me. I adore little Oscar already!

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Paradise. You'll definitely love Oscar. He's too cute.

Thanks for stopping by,


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

You know, Rob, I saw a Jane Goodall film clip with chimps tickling each other, and laughing. Ever since then, I almost think they're closer to being human than we think, both in good and bad ways. This territory war you're describing proves it to me.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Yes, it seems war is not an exclusive human trait. Ants do it. Chimps do it. It's a pity humans haven't evolved beyond it, though.


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 4 years ago from Vermont, USA


I've been a sucker for nature and animal documentaries since I used to sit with my father on the couch Sunday nights and watch Wild Kingdom.

I've seen the trailers for this movie and Jane Goodall on the Daily Show, and I know I must see the Oscar and Freddy story.

This was another of your well done informative hubs. Thanks for the heads up.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Christopher; Good to hear from you again. I remember watching 'Wild Kingdom" as a lad, too. I still remember thr theme song. Before Animal Planet, we had 'Wild Kingdom'.

I think you'll enjoy this film a lot.

Always good to hear from you,


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