Starring: Tim Allen (narrator) and a bunch of chimpanzees, a few monkeys, and a leopard
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill (“Earth”) and Mark Linfield (“Earth”)
It’s often hard to keep straight, but there are differences between monkeys and apes. I imagine most people use the terms interchangeably, since each word gives you the basic idea of what you’re dealing with: a primate with a penchant for swinging from trees and flinging their poop. Here’s an easy tip to tell them apart: monkeys have tails, apes do not. Chimpanzees, the primates featured in “Chimpanzee,” are apes. And, holy crap, chimpanzees eat monkeys.
“Chimpanzee,” the latest family-friendly documentary from Disneynature, follows a young chimpanzee named Oscar and the trials he and his small group of chimps encounter in an African rainforest, from the constant hunt for food to the perils of defending their territory from a rival group of chimpanzees.
As it always does in Disneynature films, truly stunning photography steals the show. Cameras fly over wispy clouds, lush rainforest, and amazingly intricate waterfalls. Zip line-mounted cameras creep from treetop to treetop, giving the audience nearly impossible views of the aforementioned monkeys being hunted for lunch by Oscar’s group. And underneath the canopy on the forest floor, cameras give us incredibly intimate looks at these chimpanzees, from the adorable Oscar trying in vain to smash a nut to the grizzled alpha male Freddy being groomed by his underlings.
Less successful is the narration by Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear of the “Toy Story” franchise) and the story it crafts. Allen is fine, even managing to throw in his trademark grunt about power tools, but the storyline sanitizes the reality of what we’re watching to, well, Disney levels. A tragedy that befalls Oscar is scrubbed clean enough to plug into an animated movie, and the “evil” rival chimpanzees are laughably vilified (their leader is even given the name Scar, for crying out loud) when they’re just trying to survive in the same manner our heroes are.
As the credits roll, we’re introduced to the actual film crew as they trek into the rainforest to set up the incredible camera set-ups and express genuine delight at the workings of chimpanzee society unfolding in front of their lenses. Might I suggest an alternate audio track to Allen’s narration featuring these filmmakers on the DVD release for those of us that don’t need the realities of nature to be Disneyfied?