I don’t like the route that these new documentaries from DisneyNature have taken. Plain and simple.
I don’t like how facts have taken a backseat and cute stitched together stories have taken the forefront. These are documentaries after all, not straight forward narratives.
Understandably, Disney is making these films for a young target audience. But still, young acquiring minds don’t mind the odd instance of factual information. These nature documentaries draw in an audience because the animal(s) we’ve seen in the trailers and on the posters are ones we either want to know more about or want to watch more interesting footage of.
However, and this is where the review is spun on its ear, if DisneyNature wishes to continue having their films take collected footage and mold a story with it, where bad guys have vicious names and good guys are represented by light music and cute footage, I won’t mind too much if they’re akin to Chimpanzee.
These acquiring minds follow Oscar, an innocent and young chimpanzee trying to fit in with his tribe and pick up on useful knowledge such as cracking open nuts to eat. Isha, Oscar’s Mother, stays close to her baby as she teaches him the ways of being a chimpanzee.
This is where the movie is at its most interesting point. By having these clips of Isha nurturing Oscar be uncut, for the most part, it doesn’t allow for directors/producers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield to mix around angles and build a plot. What we see is what we get and it’s fascinating.
The cinematography is gorgeous. From the sweeping shots of the rainforest, to the intimate moments with Oscar and his tribe, to the slow motion time lapse cutaways. The visuals are enough to make you pay attention to Chimpanzee in awe.
The filmis also narrated by Tim Allen. Right off the bat, this choosing of a narrator throws us a curveball. Not only have we rarely heard Allen narrate anything, but, even if he has narration experience, the pairing of him and a documentary about chimpanzees seems a bit, pardon the pun, wild.
The pairing surprisingly works. Before writing this review, I was trying to decide why it works. Is it Allen’s way to enunciate words? Not particularly. Is it his delivery on the jokes? Sort of. Then, it hit me. Tim Allen works so well as a narrator in a movie about chimpanzees because he sounds like a monkey.
Now, bare with me. When we see Oscar and company try to crack open nuts or try to get sleep whilst being awakened by forest life, Allen’s raspy and grumbly tone makes what we’re seeing fun because it matches the grunts we hear on screen. He isn’t afraid to step outside the box with the lines of dialogue either; showing that the Tool Man is enjoying himself and not writing this gig off as a quick pay check.
There are times where his commentary goes cheap and awry and becomes something that we’d hear on an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos but, for the most part, he can make us laugh. He certainly was able to get a big laugh from me as he narrates the inner monologues of the chimps.
Apparently, one chimp thinks Oscar is an idiot. I wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for Tim Allen’s enlightenment.
We learn plenty of info about Chimpanzees but the educational component is undercut by a lame-brained rivalry story.
A mean group of chimpanzees led by the relentless Scar (yes, Scar) are trying to hone in on the “good guys” to chase them out of the territory while also snacking on their nut supply.
We rarely see Scar and his tribe with Oscar and his company. This isn’t a good way to build suspense.
By hardly showing these two tribes in the same frame, the average movie goer gets a funny feeling suggesting Scar’s footage was shot at a different time and Fothergill and Linfield are using “movie magic” to assemble a climactic plot.
The action scenes between the two sides are so fast and cut oh-so-rapidly that it’s difficult to garner any interest in what’s going on. In fact, when that concluding brawl arrives, it’s delivered in a terribly anticlimactic way which will make even toddlers shrug.
Chimpanzee is a far cry from Oceans and Earth. But, it is better than the studio’s last outing African Cats, a doc that was too heavy on its contrived story and too light on factual information.
Though Chimpanzee is an improvement over their last misstep, it’s hard for me to get excited about DisneyNature progressing because in a lot of ways, they aren’t.
No matter how you’re feeling by the film’s end, the padding leading to the end credits showcasing the lengths Fothergill, Linfield, and their crew went through to make this film is engrossing.
A documentary on their quest to make Chimpanzee would’ve had facts and a free flowing story. See, sometimes a story can already be there and not be fabricated. Please, take note, DisneyNature.