By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 20, 2012 at 1:00AM
The fourth annual entry in the Disney Nature series that began with Earth, Chimpanzee once again takes a low-key, family-friendly approach to its subject and applies what can only be described as “the Disney touch” to already-compelling real-life footage.
Using a technique Walt Disney and his colleagues pioneered in their True-Life Adventures and television shows decades ago, longtime studio producer Don Hahn knows how to appeal to kids in the audience. The animals are personified; by giving them names, they become identifiable characters. The effect is amplified by Tim Allen’s light, colloquial narration.
So it is that we meet Oscar, a baby chimp who depends on his mother, Isha, for all of his needs. The tribe leader, Freddy, is protective of his clan but pays little attention to the children, who must learn to fend for themselves at some point. Survival in the African jungle means access to food, and this pits the tribe against a rival group that is much larger and more ferocious.
Just because Chimpanzee is rated G doesn’t mean that it is completely benign; parents may have to explain some of what’s going on to their younger kids, especially some of the harsher laws of the jungle.
But older kids and grownups will be especially impressed with behind-the-scenes footage that is shown at the end of the picture, where we see some of the techniques that directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield employ to capture their amazing footage. The reaction of the filmmakers and their team to Oscar’s eventual fate is also quite revealing.