Oscar is a cute, orphaned chimpanzee, but the story of his life is overwhelmed by an unnecessary dichotomy manufactured by the filmmakers.
Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield successfully continued the theme of past Disneynature films with the recent “Chimpanzee.” The crew spent four years in Taï National Park in West Africa with troops of chimpanzees to capture the intimate footage viewers rarely see. However, the documentary is set up more like a Hollywood chimp action movie than a realistic, scientific look into the lives of animals.
The film’s main attraction is the storyline in which Freddy, the leader of a troop of chimpanzees, adopts Oscar. This is the first time that an act of altruism by chimpanzees had been captured on film. Unfortunately, the anthropomorphization of the chimpanzees is too extreme. The filmmakers even go so far as to name the leader of the rival chimp group Scar, an obvious reference to the classic “Lion King” villain of the same name.
The rivalry between the two clans of chimps revolves around their search for food, especially in the nut grove Freddy’s clan frequents. Freddy and his troop occasionally make their way to the border of the territories for berries and other food — the necessities for their survival. However, when Scar and his fellow chimps try to cross the line, the viewer will see it as a potential takeover and raid of Oscar’s lands.
While chimpanzees like Freddy show their own personalities, the filmmakers take it too far. Isha is set up as the sole caretaker for Oscar and thus her eventual death and Oscar’s loneliness are overdramatized.
Tim Allen’s narration helps explain the nature of chimpanzees and their familial system. When talking about tools, he makes a clear nod to his time on television. The film is designed for the younger audience, so the narration adds to the footage in a way that is entertaining to children and yet still has substance for those willing to look a little bit deeper into the astounding abilities of chimpanzees.
Oscar is an adorable young chimpanzee, and the clan is fun to watch, but if you aren’t a child, the blatant overstatement of characterization will not pass unnoticed, distracting you from the real beauty of the captured moments.
“Chimpanzee” was directed Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.