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Monday, August 20, 2012
True Life Adventure
Tim Allen, China Anne McClain, Real Chimpanzees
Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
An adorable baby chimp named Oscar and his entertaining approach to life in a remarkable story of family bonds and individual triumph.
Chimpanzee (2012) | Review
An Orphan's Tale
The film follows a band of chimps as they move through the rainforest in search of food and as they defend their territory from a much larger band that wants to take over. The key focus for the narrative is Oscar, who we see as a very young infant and as he grows. The conflict in the story is that during a raid by the rival band, Oscar is orphaned and still too young to take care of himself. He is at risk of death when an unexpected savior steps in to adopt the young chimp.
The film is beautifully shot, as have been the previous installments in the Disneynature series. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield have also been involved in the previous films, as well as being producers of the Frozen Planet series. The camera's exploration of the rainforest is just as impressive as the study of the chimpanzee society. (My favorite visual is of raindrops hitting puffball mushrooms and the release of spores.)
The key to films such as this is the editing. The crews go out to the middle of nowhere (the site was ten hours by car, then a couple hours hiking) and have no idea what stories will develop as they shoot. Finding the proper narrative is crucial to making the film interesting. Oscar's story truly touches the audience's heart. As a young chimp, Oscar is playful. He loves to climb and play with others. It is just plain fun to watch him. But when he is orphaned, the story doesn't seem quite as much fun. He is not capable of taking care of himself. Other mothers don't step in to care for him. (Most of them already are caring for their own children.) Oscar's survival becomes our main concern.
Anthropomorphizing is always an issue in nature films. Animals are not people. They have their own set of behaviors and trying to set them in human experience rarely works. The filmmakers for this film don't often venture into that territory, but they really don't have to. Chimpanzees, as I noted above, are among the closest genetic relatives to humans. As we watch, we think we have clues as to their emotions. It is not hard to pick up a sense of affection in the parent/child bond, or a sense of fear when the rival band surrounds them. It is hard to determine just how like us these animals are, but research and anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that we have significant similarities.
This cuts both ways, however. We may feel all warm and fuzzy when we see the parental bond, but what about the warlike character of the animals? (The filmmakers seem to place most of that on the rival group, but it is clear that this battle over territory and food is a part of chimpanzee life.) Is that violence still a part of our nature? It would not be much of a jump to compare the struggle to control their own territory and food supply with our own efforts at security in a world of finite resources. The film doesn't delve into such questions, but it does give us a view into the natural world that is not far removed from ourselves. We are left to consider just how close we are to that world.
Note: There is a study guide of over 100 pages with lesson plans and activities available to download at the Disneynature website.
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