Chimpanzee, the latest in Disneynature’s educational and entertainment projects, which includes Earth, Oceans, and African Cats, is another superbly made documentary shot on location in a chimp habitat on Africa’s Ivory Coast. The Jane Goodall Foundation co-produces the film and Goodall loans her significant presence to the marketing of this stunning film, although she was not personally involved in the making of it. Goodall’s film crew spent months co-existing with the critically endangered animals in a sanctuary in West Africa not just to bring the plight of chimps to the worlds’ audiences but also to celebrate their existence. The result is breathtaking.
Co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield knew their limits within the chimp’s habitat from decades of experience – don’t approach, don’t get close. And yet thanks to state of the art 3-D cameras, we are closer than we’ve ever been to these magnificent creatures in the wild. We see the tiny hairs growing on the belly of orphaned baby Oscar and the confusion in his eyes when he can’t find his mother. We are able to pick up signals of danger the older chimps send just as the cameramen do – a tilt of the head, a subtle muscle movement, and a quick intake of air.
Chimps make tools, that’s nothing new. Goodall observed and reported the news in the 60’s, but through the film we see other advanced qualities, the complexity of their social structure and behaviours, reasoning skills and emotions. We see proof that chimps are under constant threat from human intervention, habitat destruction and poaching, even as they engage in deadly territory wars with rival chimp troops. We witness attacks, learn that Oscar’s mother has died off screen and the surprising ways his community responded.
We are taken into the heart and soul of these not-so-gentle giants who incidentally share 99% of our DNA. It’s a surprising and rewarding journey that could foster a passion for animals in children and encourage them to participate in conservation. It’s suitable viewing for youngsters – ugly stuff is off screen and there’s no gratuitous violence or exploitation. Not that it’s all pretty. There’s lots of information about the bushmeat industry and loss of forests and the chimp war scenes are tough, but it’s gentle enough and inspires compassion.
Narrated by: Tim Allen
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Top image: A scene from Chimpanzee. Courtesy Disney.