Chimpanzee (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
30Aug/120

Chimpanzee (2012)

Chimpanzee is the latest attempt from Disneynature to explain to the world how Disney brainstorms their film ideas.  It turns out that, throughout nature, a perpetual reenactment of Milo & Otis meets The Lion King is performing non-stop.  Wee little animal children are being constantly orphaned while the adults either scheme orthump logs in honorable triumph after a noble victory.  The story of Disney is the story of life, once again narrated by Tim Allen.

Despite the attempt at portraying nature as something that follows a cohesive story line where good children live another day, we all know that's not the case.  Chimpanzee tries to present the story of survival like Bambi without the firm acknowledgement that death happens.  Yes, there is death in Chimpanzee, but off-screen and barely remarked upon.

The problem with Chimpanzee is that there are two films competing for space.  The first is the Disneyfied narrative of an orphaned chimp who is adopted by the grumpy leader of another pack.  The significantly better film is in the spaces between the narrative chunks where the camera is silent and watches the fingerprints of the forest dance around.

There isn't anything that can be done to strengthen the first film short of rerecording new narration in the style of the French dialogue in the original March of the Penguins.  In that version, the penguins trudge through the cold but ask themselves existential questions about why they bother to try.  Granted, that isn't the kind of film that is going to win over the hearts and wallets of Middle America, but it would have been a lot more entertaining to watch.

The tacked on narrative is a bit familiar, as evidenced by the villain, Scar, who wants to take over the jungle.

Very few images in the narrative portion match up with the story that Tim Allen is relaying.  The problem is in the cartoonish writing than his soft delivery.  The writers filled the spaces of silence with the occasional sassy conversation overloaded with descriptions of what the chimps are doing and saying at all times.  The "tough" and "grumpy" chimp who adopts the young one is described as such but still spends almost every moment playing with the little one.  Speaking as a writer who sometimes plays the linguistic Hail Mary when a simple phrase will do, I understand the impulse but presents a story drive that just isn't there.

While that visual and narrative confusion is going on the film plays a much quieter and better film off to the side.  The second, unsung film is about the vitality and growth of the forest.  A wonderful use of time-lapse indicates the progress between the larger moments of the baby chimp's life, but shows all of the safety and danger of the environment at its finest.

This quieter story is played entirely in the luscious, high-def photography.  When the baby is still being protected the forest is a beautiful place with coiled vines forming in all directions and leaves extend to provide nourishment and shelter.  As the story grows darker the potential of death from that same life is intensified.  The definition is turned up just a bit more to see the swarms of army ants, spiders, snakes, and other denizens of the forest waiting at all times.  As the chimp learns, the predators fade off to the edges of the frame but never escape the view.

Chimpanzee, as a sound film, is too sanitized to play satisfactorily for anyone but very young children interested in nature.  But as a silent film it is nearly a success.  There are many moments of beauty and danger but those are counteracted by the multitude of scenes where the chimps sit around and, without sound, you cannot hear the narration telling that awful story.

The film is a success in nature photography and silent accompaniment to yoga.  As a film, there's just not much there.

Chimpanzee (2012)
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.
Narrated by Tim Allen.

Posted by Andrew

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