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"Chimpanzee": Wild Animals Made Family-Friendly 

Wednesday, Apr 18 2012

Disneynature's latest Earth Day release hunkers down in an Ivory Coast rainforest, taming its beasts-in-the-wild raw material into a family-friendly (though not totally sugarcoated) heroes-and-villains adventure, as did the brand's previous film, African Cats. Chimpanzee follows energetic young primate Oscar, still reliant on his mother, Isha, for food and protection. Conflict arrives via a fruit-and-nut-based turf war: Local alpha male Freddy leads his charges against an enemy faction of chimps, headed by the sinister-sounding Scar. During one interclan dustup, Isha goes missing, leaving Oscar to fend for himself. Strictly from a nature-doc angle, Chimpanzee is impressive stuff. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield get up close as the chimps go about their daily routines (grooming one another, cracking open nuts, hunting monkeys); the filmmakers also nicely depict their animal subjects' domain through occasional teeming-forest time-lapse and sweeping views above the canopy. The burden of massaging the natural-habitat footage into an intelligible rival-families narrative, though, falls to the voiceover script. Throughout, narrator Tim Allen shuttles between a jokey primer on chimp society and a play-by-play during the more action-packed scenes. Unfortunately, the constant stream of explanation often detracts from the heart-of-the-jungle sights and sounds.

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Benjamin Mercer


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