Little Orphan Oscar

The visuals in Disney's 'Chimpanzee' amaze; sadly, Tim Allen's narration annoys

While watching Disneynature's Chimpanzee, I was reminded of some of the shows I used to catch as a kid on TV's The Wonderful World of Disney.

I remembered being wowed by the cool nature footage that Walt's army used to get. I also remembered that the narration would bore and/or annoy me.

Such is the case with Chimpanzee. The footage of a little chimpanzee orphan dubbed Oscar is amazing stuff. Oscar, an energetic 3-year-old, is a cute little shit, and I could watch hours of footage featuring his adorable eyes and sense of mischief.

As for Tim Allen's narration the story of Oscar and his predicament ("Power tools ... grr!"), I was longing for the voice of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. Or perhaps even the famous primatologist Jane Goodall, who served as an adviser on the flick.

I was in awe of the camera work of directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. If—while watching the extremely close action featuring Oscar and his clan—you guess that the crew got the footage via zoom lenses from many yards away, guess again: Footage during the credits reveals that the crew was right in the thick of things, covered with camouflage.

That's amazing, considering that there are large, potentially volatile chimps in Oscar's clan. Oscar is, in fact, adopted by the group's intimidating alpha male, dubbed "Freddie" for the film. How the human crew managed to capture the footage without losing limbs or heads is beyond me.

According to the filmmakers, the act of Freddie adopting Oscar after the young chimp loses his mommy is a landmark moment captured on film. It has been observed that adult male chimps don't do that sort of thing often. As the film depicts, his actions may have been a catalyst in an attack by neighboring chimps looking to steal his area's food.

Even if the move did put his group in a bit of a pickle, it's a great thing to watch Freddie interact with Oscar. Some of the movie's more fascinating moments involve the two goofing around with mouthfuls of food, or Freddie showing Oscar how to crack nuts properly. Oscar smacking himself on the toes with rocks provides a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. It must hurt like a bitch, yet he just goes about his business trying to crack the nuts and get a snack.

Little kids going to see this movie will probably be baffled by the notion of chimps eating tree monkeys, but that's exactly what happens when food gets scarce. If those same kids know their Lion King, they might also be confused by the film's villain, an ugly, menacing neighbor chimp named Scar: He shares his name with The Lion King's villain, which might prompt many a child to ask, "Say, mommy, why didn't the big, ugly chimp have the voice of Jeremy Irons?" OK, probably not.

It would be interesting to see a film about the docile tree monkeys just going for a jungle stroll when a pack of voracious chimpanzees attacks them and eats one of their brethren. As cute as chimps can be, you must remind yourself that they will tear your face off. So, please, don't go adopting any chimps, Michael Jackson-style, resulting in your neighbor getting his face destroyed. Thus concludes the PSA portion of this movie review. Thank you.

I can understand the desire to get a big name to narrate your nature film. Perhaps the goofiness of the Allen narration isn't entirely his fault, but some of his efforts at dramatic tension or comedy are quite painful. They don't completely derail the film, but they do kill the momentum at times. Straightforward narration would probably work better for adults.

Then again, this one is also intended for kids, and they'd probably prefer the voice of Buzz Lightyear hamming it up a bit as if he were reading them a story at bedtime, over hearing the voice of Darth Vader.

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