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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Chimpanzee

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Despite some flaws, the endearing wildlife documentary "Chimpanzee" (Disneynature) offers an enjoyable expedition for moviegoers of just about every age.

Parents of the tiniest tots take note, however: Though morally suitable for all, the picture does involve a significant survival-of-the-fittest plot development that may prove too emotionally taxing for the most sensitive youngsters.

Set in the Ivory Coast's lush Tai Forest, this fourth quality offering from the Disneynature outfit follows the fortunes of a young chimp named Oscar. In characteristically well-captured early scenes, frolicsome Oscar is watched over and cared for by his devoted mother, Isha. She nurtures him while also supplying implicit instruction in the skills he will eventually need to live on his own.

Oscar's education is abruptly interrupted, however, when the extended clan with whom he and Isha live become caught up in a turf war with a rival band of simians. Though the conflict that ensues is dramatically engaging, its treatment represents one of the shortcomings that mar this otherwise polished project.

Sentimental from the start, co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield's narrative—recorded, in mostly jaunty tones, by Tim Allen—now engages in shameless anthropomorphizing. The leader of Oscar's tribe, dubbed Freddy by the filmmakers, is portrayed as heroic, while his chief opponent, on whom they impose the none-too-subtle moniker Scar, is demonized as the leader of an aggressive band of marauding warriors.

Since all the animals portrayed are acting on instinct as they pursue the never-ending struggle for optimal living conditions, such taking sides—however well it may serve to frame a story for humans—is hardly scientific.

Still, even the most levelheaded will find it hard not to sympathize with diminutive, cuddly Oscar as—sadly ill-equipped by his lack of experience—he faces the daunting consequences of the Darwinian clash by which he's been impoverished. Nor will they fail to be touched by the unexpected turn of events that ultimately transforms Oscar's adventure into a thoroughly upbeat one.

The film contains scenes of animal combat. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G—general audiences. All ages admitted.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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