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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