By Roger Moore 2014-08-15

By Roger Moore

Tribune Newspapers Critic

3 stars

Disney's 2012 movie offering for Earth Day is a gorgeous and technically dazzling look inside the world of chimpanzees -- their use of tools, their nurturing instincts, their means of organization during fights and hunts for smaller monkeys, which they sometimes eat.

But "Chimpanzee" is also a throwback, a documentary that follows a baby chimp named Oscar as he struggles to learn the ways of his tribe and to survive in the dense rain forests of Africa's Ivory Coast. It's moving and entertaining as well as informative.

And as Tim Allen narrates and the chimps themselves provide moments of low comedy and high pathos, you might be reminded of the studio's popular "True Life Adventures" nature docs of the last century -- films that humanized, sometimes to the point of cloying, their wild and untamed subjects.

In a vast, fog-enshrouded jungle, we meet baby Oscar, his mom, Isha, and the chimp in charge of this tribe -- Freddy, an alpha male tasked with keeping order and keeping other chimp packs from invading their turf, eating their figs and taking over the grove of nut trees that keeps Oscar's extended family fed, even in the jungle's lean months. They've learned to use rocks and sticks to open the nuts. But despite this advantage, the vast "army" of chimps led by one-eyed "Scar" (of course) threatens to chase them to the hinterlands, where the food promises to be more scarce.

If you see allegories in human behavior among our primate cousins -- battles over resources, clannishness -- take that as purely intentional, too.

Allen's narration makes this kid-friendly film even more so, though the script does tend toward underscoring that which is made obvious by the images on the screen. "Yum yum" at meal time, and the like. And since these chimpanzees use tools, you know "Tool Time" Allen will join them in a healthy grunt or two.

But that doesn't spoil what is a lovely film, all extreme close-ups of chimps grooming, eating (with their mouths open), working out which rocks or sticks are good for cracking nuts and which aren't. Watching the chimps hunt tiny monkeys (nothing remotely graphic is shown) for food is a lesson in role-playing, teamwork and elementary tactics. We see them build their intricate "sleeping platforms" at night, wash their food and pass down knowledge from parents to children. The detail presented here is amazing.

Nature itself makes a glorious set as we're treated to stunning shots of fluorescent mushrooms and dazzling little-known waterfalls. After the omnibus documentary "Earth" and the broader "African Cats" (by the same filmmakers), Disney may have hit on just the right mix of information and entertainment with "Chimpanzee," the best Disneynature film yet.

MPAA rating: G.

Running time: 1:24.

Voice cast: Tim Allen (narrator).

Credits: Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield; produced by Fothergill, Linfield and Alix Tidmarsh. A Disneynature release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

In this image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Kevin Hart, left, and Will Ferrell appear in a scene from the film, "Get Hard." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Patti Perret)
DreamWorks' 'Home' bests 'Get Hard' at box office with $54M$54 million debut for DreamWorks' 'Home' bests Ferrell, Hart comedy 'Get Hard' at box office
The Associated Press5 hours ago
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2004 file photo Czech director of photography Miroslav Ondricek holds the trophy of The American Society of Cinematographers in Prague, Czech Republic. Ondricek, who was twice nominated for Academy Awards for the movies he made with his friend, director Milos Forman has died. He was 80. (AP Photo/CTK, Dolezal Michal, File) SLOVAKIA OUT
Oscar-nominated Czech cameraman Miroslav Ondricek dies at 80Miroslav Ondricek, Czech director of photography twice nominated for Oscars, dies at 80
The Associated Press10 hours ago
New Matt Damon film shooting in MassachusettsNew Matt Damon film 'Manchester-by-the-Sea' shooting in Massachusetts
The Associated Press1 day ago
Indie horror movie 'It Follows' gets wide theater releaseMoviegoers continue to follow 'It Follows' as indie horror flick gets wide theater release
The Associated Press2 days ago
FILE - In this April 29, 2011, file photo, Actor Vin Diesel poses during the photo call of the movie "Fast and Furious 5", in Rome. Diesel said Friday, March 27, 2015, that the latest "Fast & Furious" film deserves a best picture Oscar but has two strikes against it when it comes to the Academy, it's an action flick and it's a sequel. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
Vin Diesel says Oscars weighted against action filmsVin Diesel says Oscars weighted against action films but latest 'Fast & Furious' deserves one
The Associated Press2 days ago
Movie News