Animal Kingdom: Let's Go Ape!


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Animal Kingdom: Let's Go Ape!
"These apes aren't great, they grate."

Let's Go Ape is a fitting subtitle for the directorial debut from Amelie and Angel-A star Jamel Debbouze as it seems intent on copying elements from other, much more successful animations. The result is an uninspiring mash-up of The Croods, Ice Age and The Lion King.

The animation itself - with the sorts of bold colours and chunky characters that have become associated with Blue Sky Studios' Ice Age franchise - is engaging enough but the storyline and English dubbed dialogue are all over the place.

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The central character Edward is clearly modelled on Debbouze himself (who voices him in the French version), as, like the actor, he doesn't have the use of his right arm. This could have been a bold choice and an opportunity to raise the issue of disability with children but, like so many of the good ideas in this film, it is squandered. Plus, with no explanation for the arm tucked permanently into the front of his loin cloth – he's the only one of the apes who wears one – it's likely to prompt questions of a much more unsavoury nature from children who won't be aware of the actor he is representing.

In the British dub, he is voiced by Ben Bishop, who reimagines him as a cockney wideboy, immediately alienating much of the audience north of Watford gap. Opening with a Lion King style birth scene - complete with Mystic Monkey - we learn that the wife of the King of these swingers has had twins. One boy, Simeon (see what they did there?), is a rough and ready image of dad, but the first-born son, Edward, is oddly hairless and tiny, immediately considered a bad omen by Mystic Monkey and sent off to be killed. Would you believe it? The boy survives, taken in by a friendly proboscis monkey called Ian (Ray Gillon and pronounced Yan, for some reason).

When he grows up it turns out he's not so good at the monkey business, but he begins to take tentative steps - upright! - and set about trying to tame 'earth fire' after being banished from the improbably gigantic banyan tree where all the apes live.

Debbouze - adapting the film from Ray Lewis's The Evolution Man - forgets two things, create a decent villain and stay true to your premise. The bad guys here all fragmented saps. Daddy and slow bro are gruff but too soft-hearted, while the King's conniving side-kick Vladimir (modelled on French comic giant Louis de Funès and voiced here by Wayne Forester) is too stupid to be a threat. The Mystic Monkey, meanwhile, is quite nasty but has so little screen-time we don't care if she's scary.

As for the premise - it could have been fun and, at a stretch, even educational, to see man making the first tentative steps to cave dwelling, but the scriptwriting team (almost large enough to fill their own banyan tree) are only looking for a quick joke, referencing things like 'under-floor heating' when Edward hasn't even wrapped his head round fire. The female characters are as happens all too frequently in animation, woefully underwritten afterthoughts. As the story rumbles on, children are likely to be bored, confused or both. These apes aren't great, they grate.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2015
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An ape takes the first steps of human evolution.
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Director: Jamel Debbouze

Writer: Jamel Debbouze, Fred Fougea, Jean-Luc Fromental, Ahmed Hamidi, Roy Lewis, Victor Mayence, Pierre Ponce, John R. Smith, Rob Sprackling

Starring: Original voice cast: Jamel Debbouze, Mélissa Theuriau, Arié Elmaleh, Patrice Thibaud. Dubbed voice cast: Ben Bishop, Sohm Kapila, Ray Gillon, Wayne Forester

Year: 2015

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France, Italy, Belgium, China


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If you like this, try:

The Croods