For all those expecting Disney’s Chimpanzee to be a hardline nature documentary, take special note of the name Disney. Though the film compiles some excellent footage of primates in their natural habitat, it’s all edited together in a format resembling, well, a typical Disney film about family, heroes, and villains. Tim Allen, only making his trademark ape grunt once, narrates the “story” of Oscar, a young chimpanzee, and his tribe of companions living in the jungle while facing the territorial threat of a rival group led by another chimp named – wait for it – Scar.
Watching the film, one might get the idea that the actual threat of Scar is being manufactured to add a narrative thrust to what is otherwise a series of unrelated scenes about Oscar’s gang scavenging for food and climbing trees. That’s probably the case, but the children to whom the film is being marketed to probably won’t know the difference. For the most part, it’s just a lot of cute fluff interspersed with dramatic heft when Oscar’s mother vanishes after a particularly violent storm.
The film’s most interesting sequence, perhaps not coincidentally, is the one that children in the audience will probably feel the most uncomfortable with. Though normally the chimpanzees are seen grabbing fruit from fallen trees and collecting nuts, at one point they go on a calculated hunt for the meat of monkeys. Most children probably don’t make a distinction between the different species of primates and Allen’s narration doesn’t care to either, making the scene – which features the particularly stellar intellectual talents of the animals in action – oddly disquieting for a younger audience. It’s an isolated moment in a film that follows the line of your average Disney narrative, though, even The Lion King had a couple of disturbing moments. It’s just that this time the animals are real.