MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield. Documentary.
It isn’t until the closing credits of this lovely-looking film when you realize the great film you could have been watching. This behind-the-scenes footage shows the love, care and perseverance of the nature photographers as they brave heat, bugs and the jungle of the Ivory Coast to film tribes of chimpanzees up close and personal. There is more than enough going on in this primate society to create a fascinating film. In fact, something happened during their filming that no one expected to see: an alpha male decides to raise an orphaned baby, a behavior that goes against all expectations.
But what this Disney-produced nature film decides to do instead is to design a cute live-action story about little 3-year-old Oscar and Freddy, his protector. I don’t really mind the cute names (anthropologist Jane Goodall has been using names instead of numbers for years to identify chimps) or even the early scenes of chimp kids playing in the trees and trying to crack nuts. The problems come later in the film when the chimps get into territorial squabbles with another tribe. Here the script decides to manufacture an evil tribe of rivals, whose leader is “Scar” and whose cohorts are described as “thugs”. Call it monkey see, monkey do, but everything that the “bad” chimps do, Oscar and Freddy’s group does as well, from stealing food to crossing the border. And, without giving too much away, the anticipated battle between the chimps doesn’t amount to very much at all.
There really isn’t enough charm to this manufactured story to interest preschool kids (who will tune out after the nut cracking scene) to hang in there for 74 minutes, and not enough nature information to keep adults satisfied. Knowing that the documentarians (who also make the excellent films Earth and African Cats) shot hundreds of hours of HD video makes me hope for a longer look on an Animal Planet special in the future.
Three halos: A visually beautiful film saddled with a corny and somewhat misleading narrative.
Two pitchforks:Off-screen violence and monkey munching (that’s right – chimps kill and eat smaller monkeys.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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