Meet Oscar. He is the toddler hero of Disneynature’s just released documentary, “Chimpanzees.” It’s his eyes that got me — just look at them. Like my Mom, I’m a sucker for chimps.
Completely on a whim, Mary Tyler Son and I went to go see it this afternoon. We had house guests this weekend, friends from Iowa who both entertained us and brought Crack Pie and Carmel Bacon Cashew Popcorn for our consumption. As they were preparing to leave yesterday, Mary Tyler Son broke down in tears, probably thinking that he would be stuck with just me all day and no cool older kids to play with.
I knew I had to up my game, but wasn’t certain what was on the agenda. Chimpanzees! A friend gave it a thumbs up on the facebook and seeing it was rated “G,” I promised the boy that if he behaved himself at a meeting I had to drag him to, we would go see the movie. We watched the trailer this morning, and with eyes open wide, he was enthralled.
A few folks have asked me if it was “kid friendly.” For me, YES. It captivated both three year old Mary Tyler Son and myself. Just 70 minutes in length, the timing is ideal for young kids.
The cinematography is astoundingly beautiful. Set in a rainforest in Uganda, the crisp depiction of water drops on the flora and fauna of the forest were simply breathtaking to me. And hats off to those behind the camera. They managed to capture the personalities of the chimps and the relational dynamics of tribe life in a really engaging way.
Less stellar was Tim Allen’s narration. I just kept thinking about Tool Time and Pamela Anderson. Distracting, annoying, and a little too chummy for my taste.
Regarding violence and death and the brutality of nature, in true Disney style, that was skimmed over from my POV. You should note, though, that my POV is that of a Cancer Mom who has buried a child. Words like death and dying and pain and sadness are spoken easily in our home. I know that is not always the case around young kids.
So, for the record, baby Oscar’s mom dies midway through. She is eaten by a leopard after being separated from her tribe and her Oscar by a rival group of chimps. None of this is seen, but you do hear the satisfied roar of a large cat. MEOW. A moment later, the narration is frank and tells us that Oscar’s mom has died.
More dramatic tension comes from this rival “army” or “mob” or “gang” of chimps headed by their alpha male, Scar. As is the case in a natural setting, animals must hunt for food. While no violence is ever shown, the hunt is depicted and it is clear that larger, more powerful animals eat smaller, more vulnerable animals. In Chimpanzees, that would be a monkey being eaten by the “good” tribe of chimps. Music intensifies what is happening on screen. Nom nom nom and scene!
A last interesting theme would be that of adoption. As Oscar is orphaned midway through, we see his attempts to find another caregiver, with no luck. He does thin, and we are shown this. He is searching for his mom, and we see this, too. It is not belabored, but the narration makes it clear what is happening and the threat that exists for Oscar being a three year old chimp without a protector.
Enter Freddie! Freddie is the alpha male of Oscar’s tribe. In a truly Disney-esque turn of events, Freddie assumes responsibility for Oscar. It is lovely and tender to see, and honestly could not have been scripted any better. We see both male and female caregivers, we see adoption, we see death and loss, and vulnerability. Nature at its finest.
But don’t listen to me. What do I know? As we were leaving the theater, Mary Tyler Son gave it three “very”s. “That movie was very, very, very good!” He asked questions throughout the film, “Why don’t the chimp dads take care of their kids?” “Why did that leopard eat the mom?” “What kind of fruit is that?”
Best yet, he crawled up in my lap the second we sat down and cuddled with me the whole time. When Oscar’s mom nuzzled his neck, I did the same with Mary Tyler Son. When she kissed his cheek, I kissed my boy’s cheek. When she groomed Oscar by picking the ticks off of him, I picked the ticks off Mary Tyler Son. Not really, but you get the idea. Seriously, the quality cuddle alone was worth the $13.50 ticket price.
On a heavier note, seeing this movie and knowing that chimpanzees are in real danger due to development and the cutting down of rainforests in Africa, it is hard to deny how vulnerable the animals that we know and love are. I grew up seeing chimps in the zoo, but not having any real sense of their magnifcence. Today, I believe Mary Tyler Son got a sense of something that would never be duplicated with a visit to the zoo.
For all patrons who see Chimpanzees in its debut week, April 20-April 26, 2012, Disneynature will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). You can see the trailer and learn more about JGI here.