As you all know, I am a chimpanzee fan. I had planned my bucket list trip to see chimpanzees before this movie was ever announced; I’ve toyed with the idea of making primate medicine a career; I got emotional and weepy when I heard Jane Goodall speak for the first time. I don’t think I ever posted this snippet from October because it looks like a bad outtake from Blair Witch: Africa, but my eyes were THAT WIDE because it was seriously that cool.
So needless to say, I had high expectations for this Disney Nature film.
But not too high. I’m the first to admit I didn’t really enjoy African Cats. I thought it was terribly depressing. I mean, it is a documentary and you can’t control nature, so if all you get for years of filming is cat cubs getting eaten by hyenas and elderly lionesses abandoned by the pride to starve on the savanna, you gotta roll with it. But there were so few uplifting moments to balance the sad ones that the whole thing had a terribly melancholic tone.
Last week I took a group of kids- I was excited enough about the movie to voluntarily agree to go with more than just my own, which should tell you something- to see Chimpanzee. I had hoped it would be as good as the trailers made it appear.
I was so not disappointed.
The cinematography was stunning. The narration by Tim Allen was entertaining without being overbearing. But what made the film just amazing was something that no one could have predicted- a completely mind-blowing moment never before seen on film. (Don’t read if you don’t want spoilers, though the trailers pretty much allude to what happens anyway.)
Now we all know the party line on chimpanzees: the females are the loving nurturers and the males spend their time beating each other up, grooming, eating, and impregnating. They have never been known to be particularly nurturing to the young, and have even been known to kill them. So when little Oscar’s mother died during filming, the filmmakers were mortified. He was, after all, the star they had been following since birth, and now- well, this was bad. They knew what was probably going to happen to him, but they were helpless to interfere.
They watched as the other females rejected him. Too young to take care of himself, he lost weight. In a last ditch effort, he started shadowing the alpha male, Freddy, who had never shown youngsters much tolerance or even interest. Freddy was typical of alpha males, a hulking, somewhat surly male who had an imposing bulk and a grim stare.
Freddy noticed this little shadow. He looked at this face staring back at him, a potential future challenger.
Freddy grunted. He picked up a rock. Then he bashed open a nut and handed it to Oscar, who had been unable to master the task.
Freddy adopted Oscar in all senses of the word. The sight of this hulking male with a little wee one hanging off his back hit every “awwwww” button in my cranium, the same one that gets pinged by pictures of firemen holding kittens.
This is just not something you see every day, even if you spend every day watching chimpanzees. To have caught such an unusual and tender experience is a treasure. I can only imagine the reaction of the filmmakers as they watched this singular event unfold in front of them, a documentarian’s dream.
And boy, did they commit to this movie in every sense of the word. I enjoyed the making-of segment even more than the trailers, if only to appreciate what they put up with: scorpions, spiders, vipers, fire ants, and bees. Thank you, Disney Nature Filmmakers of Genius, for putting up with all of that to bring the Ivory Coast to the air conditioned comfort of my local cinemaplex.
Have you seen Chimpanzee yet? Will you? You TOTALLY should. And I rarely say that.
Chimpanzee, by Disney Nature: Two opposable thumbs up.