Reviewed by: David Graham

The latest offering from the DisneyNature division is as basic as its title suggests, but sadly this narrowing of vision after the more expansive likes of African Cats and Wings Of Life hasn't resulted in a more in-depth experience. With a jovial Tim Allen commentary that comes across like Candid Camera out-takes at times, the inherent humour in primates monkeying around is emphasised at the expense of a more balanced, detailed look into their world. While its technical credentials can't be faulted, Chimpanzee is a frustratingly repetitive and shallow feature that can barely be called a documentary.

Oscar is the latest chimp on the block, a mischievous little critter who's yet to master the delicate arts of nut-cracking and tree-climbing, so sticks close to mother Isha much of the time. His small community's territory is rich in coveted fruit, leading to opposition from a larger rival group, whose fearsome leader Scar mounts increasingly vicious attacks. When Oscar is separated from Isha, his future looks uncertain, but an unexpected benefactor may give him a hope for survival.

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A perhaps unavoidable problem for directors Alistair Fothergill and Mark Linfield lies in the suffocating blanket of green the jungle represents visually: there's precious little variety to keep audiences stimulated, with the camera rarely breaking the tree-tops and never investigating the other creatures in the chimps' food-chain. Fothergill made stunning use of Africa's great plains and myriad inhabitants for African Cats, but the landscape here automatically places all the focus on the chimps, which is something of a mixed blessing.

Animal lovers will of course find plenty to enjoy in this voyeuristic glimpse into this reclusive society, but by holding the focus on the chimps alone, their lives are made to feel like a monotonous routine. There's only so many comedic montages of failed attempts at cracking nuts with rocks a viewer can endure before ennui sets in: even Jeremy Beadle would know not to flog a horse so hard. The scenes of the young chimps frolicking around are never less than charming, but there's just too many of them, which makes it feel like they're not advancing at all, and makes it hard to engage with them growing up.

The soundtrack is also an irritation, the string of Jungle Book-indebted swing songs with dubiously irrelevant lyrics failing to add much to the footage. Allen's jokey voice-over grates almost immediately; he doesn't feel as genuinely enthralled as Samuel L Jackson did in African Cats, and his endlessly moronic attempts at sarcasm are just pitiful. The primates are amusing enough without all the condescending aural shenanigans robbing them of what little grace the camera leaves them.

Disney's predictable attempt to impose a narrative and to anthropomorphise the animals leads to some stodgy story-telling, and most of the chimps are unfortunately too similar looking to distinguish in the most exciting scenes. The action in these fleeting moments of danger and peril - whether it's a cannibalistic ambush on smaller tree-dwelling monkeys or the screeching skirmishes with Scar and his hooligans - temporarily invigorates proceedings, and the narrative hinges on a genuinely nail-biting pivotal tragedy about two-thirds of the way through, but for the most part Chimpanzee is somewhat lazy and padded, not unlike the over-priced teddy bears Disney trots out with each of its releases.

Chimp-lovers will find it all worthwhile for a couple of never-before-captured instances of the animals' life-affirming altruistic behavior, but for everyone except the most easily pleased children, this will likely prove a disappointing bore, especially so soon after the electrifying simian fables of Project Nim and the rousing Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. The end credits give an idea of the countless man-hours that went into its creation, but if it really took four years and all that technology to come up with this, DisneyNature might want to rethink their approach.

Reviewed on: 03 May 2013
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Chimpanzee packshot
An orphan chimp struggles to survive and gradually grows in social status.
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Director: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Writer: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Starring: Tim Allen, Oscar

Year: 2012

Runtime: 78 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Tanzania, US


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