Judge Bill Gibron won't monkey around with this intriguing title, since it's actually about apes.
For Oscar, every day is an adventure.
Sometimes, life is not fair. You sign up to be a film critic and end up having your heart torn out by a ditzy little Disney "documentary" about an abandoned chimp and its quest for comfort. DAMN! I'm too old to be weeping this openly. People will think I'm suffering from some kind of middle-aged malaise. But that's indeed the effect something like Chimpanzee has on you.
PETA should be appalled. No, our amiable little ape (remember, monkeys have tails…and much smaller brains) is not tortured or tormented by wildlife filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield (of the brilliant BBC production Planet Earth). Instead, he is given a narrative straight out of House of Mouse Central, his struggles to find a replacement for his "lost" mother (read: killed by a competing band of simians) leading to an unlikely pairing with an aging Alpha male. Along the way, narrator Tim Allen does his best to anthropomorphize the animal situations all out of proportion. While the wildlife photography is absolutely stunning, the storyline gets a bit syrupy. Then our half-pint hero—who is named Oscar, by the way—looks directly into the lens and it's like Niagara and Victoria Falls all rolled into one. We forgive as we grab a box of tissues and begin sniffling…
Unlike previous installments of the company's Oscar winning True-Life Adventures (which begat this cinematic relative, now known as Disneynature), these new efforts want to impose order on the otherwise chaotic nature of…nature. Centered in France, this unusual division of Walt's world combs the globe looking for examples like Chimpanzee. So far, they have given us a take on the planet, its oceans, its African cats, its flamingoes, and its bees, butterflies, birds and bats. So a jump to the animals closest to ourselves seems only…natural (I've got to stop doing that…).
Anyway, Chimpanzee isn't very educational—that is, beyond the basics. Since this is definitely aimed at the pre-middle school set, we can't get into some of the more prickly primate details. Yet Allen's narration, for all its smarm, does deliver a lot of useful information. It's never wholly intrusive and only occasionally goes overboard in the "awww…cute" department. What's really intriguing is the little details, the behaviors that seem familiar while also adding to our understanding and appreciation of our own species. Things get a bit sticky at the end, when yet another rival cock-up threatens things, but for the most part, Chimpanzee is like a visit to the local modern zoo. You get to see a chimp's challenges in life without really having to worry about their safety.
As for the Blu-ray itself, Chimpanzee looks amazing. Some minor banding issues aside, the transfer is nearly flawless. The 1.78:1/1080p high definition image explodes with depth and detail. The colors are warm and inviting, the filmmaking adept and quite stunning at times. You'll be hard-pressed to believe some of the visuals you are seeing, but the bonus features assure us that what we are getting is at least 90% "as it happened" (only 10% was crafted in post, apparently). We learn this in the equally compelling 40 minute making-of. The rest of the added content is just EPK-level looks at various aspects of the production. Sonically, things are just as good as the visuals. There is an excellent level of immersion, especially in the quieter moments, and the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio surround mix expertly balances the needs of the narration with the ambience of experiencing jungle life "as is."
Okay, so Chimpanzee may have a bit too much "manufactured" narrative. Yes, it's shameless in the way it manipulates your feeling for this little ape and his hardships. But if you find yourself dry-eyed and cynical after this 78 minute movie, you are clearly traipsing into Tin Man territory. Go to your local wizard (or man behind the curtain) and get yourself a new ticker, pronto.
Not Guilty. Too cute and too earnest to be bad.
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