Disneynature’s annual celebration of Earth Day this year swings onto big screens as Chimpanzee, a documentary about a primatologist and the gorilla he’s trained to communicate with humans via a special device that translates the creature’s sign language into a digitized voice. Oh, wait. Sorry, that was the movie Congo. There’s really no need for me to elaborate much further on what Chimpanzee is about beyond the fact that like last year’s African Cats, the doc tries to humanize a family of wild animals by telling a story edited from footage that was likely extremely difficult to capture.
You’ll forget that the stars of Chimpanzee aren’t real actors despite seeming to often do exactly what the filmmakers want. We may share 99% of our DNA with chimps, but they remain beasts that could have effortlessly ripped apart the crew, deeply embedded in the primates’ jungles. Chimpanzee is rated G, so although it does contain some violence, it still doesn’t come close to that of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was somewhat neutered in a PG-13 cage.
It reportedly took four years to get enough usable footage for Chimpanzee, which is barely over an hour not counting the credits. However, what little footage you do see is mostly amazing, and some of it is even historic. The presentation of the chimps using tools is fascinating, the aerial shots of their lush lands are gorgeous, and the slow-mo macro close-ups and time-lapse sequences are stunningly and simply awesome. Reminiscent of the “Jungles” episode of Planet Earth, these parts will wow you and demand repeat viewings, which I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to be obliged to.
The biggest minus about the doc is that you can never tell what the hell is going on amidst the chaos of territorial disputes between chimp gangs. Whether that’s due to the G rating or the difficulty in shooting ape fights while staying alive, it kinda sucks to miss out on something that could’ve elevated the film to the legendary level of Planet Earth. But that’s all right because narrator Tim Allen (I guess they ran out of black actors?) fills you in adequately throughout the movie.
It might not be as spectacular as previous Disneynature docs like Oceans and Earth, but Chimpanzee is a touching and unique one that’s better than African Cats and narrows the evolutionary gap between apes and us. The chimps behave and move on cue as if they’re all being played by Andy Serkis, and it results in a remarkably sensational and polished product. When the very short movie is over, be sure to stay for the must-see extra scenes during the credits. Chimpanzee gets 3 out of 5 stars or B- or Good.