Chimpanzee Review
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On each of the last four Earth Day weekends, Disneynature has released a gorgeous new nature documentary, offering audiences of all ages a glimpse into parts of the world that we’ll most likely never get to see for ourselves. With the help of seasoned nature documentarians, they’ve taken us on journeys around the world and under the sea, showing us so much more than we could ever experience at the local zoo. And this year’s installment, Chimpanzee, is no different. If you think you know all there is to know about those playful little creatures who entertain the crowds at the zoo, you might be in for a surprise or two.

Chimpanzee takes audiences to the jungles of the Ivory Coast, where a young chimp named Oscar lives with his mother and an extended family of 35, led by alpha male Freddy. The film follows Oscar as he learns the ways of the jungle, whether he’s playing with the other young chimps or tagging along with his mother and the rest of his family as they search for food and hunt for prey.

  
 
Meanwhile, though, another gang of chimps remains nearby, ready to challenge Freddy’s group for their territory. And when they choose their moment to raid Freddy’s group, tragedy strikes, and Oscar finds himself getting some much-needed help from the most unlikely member of his family.

With Chimpanzee, Disneynature’s filmmakers try something that they’ve never done before: focusing on just one story. While other releases have offered just a broad overview of various habitats—or, as with 2011’s African Cats, told the stories of a couple of different animal families—Chimpanzees gives Oscar and his family its full attention. The result is a consistent, coherent, and utterly lovable character-driven story, following adorable little Oscar from his earliest moments as he feeds, plays, sleeps, and struggles to survive. Along the way, you’ll laugh at his antics, you’ll be touched by his relationships, and you’ll be concerned for his safety—all while learning more about the politics and power plays of life in the jungle.

While telling Oscar’s story, though, the filmmakers also manage to incorporate some stunning photography of the chimps’ habitat. They capture the jungle’s insects and plant life in breathtaking detail, often using time lapse or slow motion techniques to get a better look.

But, of course, it’s not just those few special techniques that make Chimpanzee a stunning natural sight to behold. Disneynature is known for striking nature photography—and Chimpanzee once again captures life in the wild in remarkable detail, pairing lush HD imagery with just the right soundtrack to educate and entertain at the same time.

The only aspect that doesn’t really fit is Tim Allen’s narration. His light-hearted, down-to-earth style works relatively well during the film’s more playful moments, but, when things get serious, that style seems out of place. While other nature doc narrators—Morgan Freeman, for instance—can be both playful and refined at the same time, that’s simply not Tim Allen’s style. And his narration lacks the class and charm that you might expect to find in a nature documentary.

Despite a couple of small glitches, though, Chimpanzee is yet another success for Disneynature, a young studio that seems to be learning and growing with each new release. Chimpanzee isn’t just another dry, preachy nature documentary. It’s vibrant, heartwarming, and entertaining—and it’s sure to be a hit with family members of all ages.


Blu-ray Review:
If watching Disney’s Chimpanzee left you wanting to know a little more about the film’s adorable stars and their wild habitat, you’ll want to take some time to explore the extras on the film’s Blu-ray release. Many of the special features discuss Disney’s conservation efforts—from their Friends for Change programs to their partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute. The disc also features the music video for “Rise” by the McClain Sisters, along with a feature on the making of the video.

The most interesting extra, however, is the seven-part behind-the-scenes feature, On Location: The Making of Chimpanzee. Here, you’ll get to see the hard work and hardship that went into making Chimpanzee—from the camera team’s hour-long “commute” through the hot, humid jungle to the variety of less-than-pleasant creatures that the crew encountered throughout production. These scenes, in fact, are sometimes so disturbing that they come with warnings for viewers. For more on the lovable chimps, though, there’s even a feature on their nut-cracking adventures. These extras will make you laugh, and they’ll make you cringe—and, in the end, they’ll give you a pretty good feel for both the environment and the sometimes treacherous filmmaking process.

Many of the extras on the Chimpanzee Blu-ray release offer little more than some basic information—and you probably won’t be interested in the music video unless you’re a preteen girl. But if you loved Chimpanzee, you’ll enjoy watching the making-of features, too.

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