Movie Review: Chimpanzee

A film that took more than four years and an extravagant amount of luck to make, Chimpanzee is an exceptional wildlife movie that should hold the interest of viewers from youngest to oldest.

Shot in the jungles of Africa, this film by directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield focuses on one family of chimps, led by an alpha male named Freddy. But the real subject is one of the family's newest members: a newborn baby chimp named Oscar.

Over the course of the film's 80 minutes, the camera captures the chimps' daily lives and explains some of their behavior. It captures everything from tool use (using sticks to fish for ants and rocks to crack open nuts) to grooming (a social behavior that strengthens bonds) to the art of weaving a treetop bed out of supple branches.

Oscar is as camera-ready a hero as you're likely to find -- unless there's another baby chimp available. He plays with his mother Isha, bugs the adults and copies the actions of his elders in the brood. He also hides for his life whenever Freddy's family must defend its territory from encroachment by another chimp tribe led by a male named Scar.

But when tragedy befalls Oscar, it's instructive to see how he manages to survive. Too young to fend for himself, he can't convince any of the other females in the family to take him on. But just when things look darkest, he is adopted by the least likely member of the group.

And that, really, is it. The cameras swoop from the treetops of the jungle canopy to the jungle floor, following Freddy's troop as they feed in their local nut grove, eat other fruit or simply lay about in the midday sun.

It's remarkable how close to these chimps the cameras can get, while Oscar learns to "make a living," as narrator Tim Allen puts it. The cinematography gives you amazing access to the day-to-day lives of these very human animals. It may be the most personal and involving nature doc since March of the Penguins.

A couple of quibbles: While the narration mentions leopards as natural predators of the chimpanzees, no mention is made of man as someone who regularly helps decimate the chimpanzee population. Nor is there mention made of the effects of climate change, which shorten growing seasons and force rival groups of chimps to invade each other's territory.

Those are small concerns. Chimpanzee will grab your interest and hold it firmly, offering laughs as well as lump-in-the-throat moments.

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