Cute Animal Alert! Disney's Documentary 'Chimpanzee' Opens Today

Your own little monkey has probably seen chimps at the zoo, but that can't compare to watching them up close and in their native habitat, which is why we're psyched for Chimpanzee. Should you see the movie? Check out Common Sense Media's review...

Rating: Ages 6 and up: ON -- Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.

What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chimpanzee is a beautifully filmed, African-set nature documentary about how a chimpanzee community must defend its territory to survive. The central "character" in the story is a baby chimp named Oscar, and some children will be disturbed when a confrontation with a rival chimp clan leaves him orphaned (his mother's death is referenced several times), lonely, and desperate for affection. The violence is edited so quickly that younger viewers aren't likely to pick up on anything bloody happening, but the narrator does say when animals are killed -- including a Colobus monkey the chimpanzees hunt together. Kids interested in animals will learn about the way chimpanzees live and interact, as well as witnessing a unique relationship between a juvenile and alpha male chimp.

What's the story?
Veteran nature documentarian Alastair Fothergill follows a Chimpanzee community in this nature film narrated by comic actor Tim Allen. The first half of the documentary focuses on the everyday life of the African chimpanzees led by alpha male Freddie. The newest member of Freddie's group is an infant named Oscar. After getting a taste for how the chimpanzees eat, hunt, sleep, and play, "dramatic tension" is introduced in the form of a rival chimpanzee group with a menacing elder alpha named Scar. When Scar's chimps engage Freddie's in a vicious fight for territory and food resources, Oscar's mother is injured and eventually dies. Alone and frightened, baby Oscar must be taken in by another caretaker or face certain death. After he's rejected by all of the other females in the clan, Oscar finds an unlikely foster parent in Freddie, who claims Oscar as his own.

Is it any good?
Nature documentaries are almost always visually dazzling, and Chimpanzee is no exception. Fothergill's team (as viewers learn in the end credits) endured all manner of inconveniences and injuries to capture these intimate shots of the chimpanzees and their surroundings. Whether it's a close-up of the chimps lazily grooming each other, an action sequence of them executing a Colobus monkey hunt, or just a sweeping pan of the entire forest landscape, the camera work is precise and evocative of a world that most of us will never see in person.

Where Chimpanzee falters is its narration. While Allen's joke-filled monologue will please some viewers, those who prefer less made-up animal "dialogue" and more straightforward, observational narration will find Allen a tad gimmicky. His narration doesn't just explain what's happening -- it inserts conversations and thoughts like "What an idiot" that are a bit over the top and unnecessary. Ultimately, not much "happens" in Chimpanzee, but it's still an amazing look at the rare bond between an alpha male and his youngest kin. It's delightful, if at times heartbreaking, to watch a society of chimpanzees collaborate and interact in ways that are incredibly similar to human beings.

What families can talk about
-- Families can talk about the popularity of wildlife documentaries. What attracts families to nature films?
-- How is the narration in Chimpanzee different than that of other documentaries? Do you prefer the straightforward approach or Tim Allen's jokier one?
--"Alpha chimp" Scar and his crew are depicted as antagonists for wanting to start a confrontation with Freddie's clan, but aren't all the animals just acting like animals? Both groups of chimpanzees just want to survive, so is it fair for the documentary to portray one group as the "good" guys and their rivals as menacing enemies?

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