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

GOP to back 'The Interview' if it gets to theatersGOP says it will urge supporters to buy a ticket to 'The Interview' if it gets to theaters
The Associated Press6 hours ago
The Sony Pictures Entertainment studio building is seen on Madison in Culver City, Calif., Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama declared Friday that Sony "made a mistake" in shelving the satirical film, "The Interview," about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader, and he pledged the U.S. would respond "in a place and manner and time that we choose" to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the withdrawal. The FBI blamed the hack on the communist government. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Sony saga blends foreign intrigue, star wattageSony hacking case combines rare blend of international intrigue and Hollywood star power
The Associated Press6 hours ago
This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix as Larry "Doc" Sportello in "Inherent Vice."  (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Wilson Webb)
The AP's top 10 movies of the year'Ida,' 'Boyhood' lead The Associated Press' top 10 movies of the year
The Associated Press9 hours ago
5 comedy alternatives to 'The Interview'Without 'The Interview' in theaters, 5 comedies to watch about taking out world leaders
The Associated Press11 hours ago
President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room in Washington, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. The president claimed an array of successes in 2014, citing lower unemployment, a rising number of Americans covered by health insurance, and an historic diplomatic opening with Cuba. He also touts his own executive action and a Chinese agreement to combat global warming. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )
Obama says North Korea hacked Sony, vows responseObama: Sony made mistake in shelving film under pressure by North Korea hackers; vows response
The Associated Press1 day ago
Movie News