Chimpanzees kind of creeps me out. Oh, sure, they’re cute and we’ve paraded them out for our entertainment for years in everything from the high-profile glories of “Tarzan” to the abject humiliation of “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp.”
But behind all their adorable hijinks, these things are basically face-eating, killing machines and are by far the most aggressive of the great ape species (OK fine, not counting us).
You would much rather spend your time finger painting and learning sign language with a gorilla, or having a beer with an orangutan. Even Clint Eastwood understands this.
So I wasn’t extremely enthused about seeing “Chimpanzee,” the new nature documentary from Disney, but I was won over pretty quickly by the stunning visuals captured in an African rainforest, along with a fascinating glimpse into a wild chimpanzee society.
The movie follows a particular chimp clan as they go about the business of living by foraging for food, grooming one another, and enduring territorial clashes with rival chimp clans.
The filmmakers were able to capture a fairly remarkable occurrence that becomes the heart of the movie. A young chimp in the clan (arbitrarily named Oscar for personification purposes) is orphaned and shunned by all the other adults. That is until the alpha male (arbitrarily named Freddy) uncharacteristically adopts the young chimp and raises him as his mother would have. Seeing that this is a Disney production, the cutesiness factor gets ratcheted up to 11 thanks mostly to the serviceable, if not occasionally heavy-handed narration by Tim Allen.
When the leader of a rival chimpanzee clan gets dubbed Scar and all of their actions are labeled as villainous, you can practically hear the eye-rolling among the adults in the audience.
These are just chimpanzees out in the jungle doing their thing, why do we have to make them into good guys and bad guys? Of course, I shouldn’t complain because the nature documentary has come a long way. Marlin Perkins probably would have just sent Jim in to wrestle with Scar before making him go poke a leopard with a stick.
As compelling as the story of Oscar and Freddy is, I found the flora and fauna of the rainforest to be just as interesting. Time-lapse photography allows us to watch a spider spin an entire web in a few seconds and strange, bioluminescent fungi that look like props James Cameron discarded from “Avatar” light up the forest floor.
At light and lean 78 minutes, “Chimpanzee” is perfect family fare as kids will love watching the antics of the young chimps, and just before they figure out it’s educational, the credits are rolling.
I’ve even softened on my hardline, anti-chimpanzee stance. Oh sure, I’m still convinced they are powerful, limb-detaching murderers, but left to themselves in the wilds of Africa, I’m willing to admit they are adorably precious, powerful, limb-detaching murderers.
“Chimpanzee” is rated G.