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Chimpanzee: a Robwrite Review
You'll go ape for this wonderful film
CHIMPANZEE (5 STARS out of 5)
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.