Opening 9 May 2013
Newborn Oscar’s 35-member community, under Freddy’s strong leadership, is “a rich society deep in heart of the jungle” at Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. Three months later, under mom Isha’s watchful eye, toddler Oscar is learning to groom, help forage, and is “in nut-cracking preschool”; a dietary mainstay for 4,000 years, chimps spend years learning how to best gather and crack-open nuts. Food scarcity forces the tribe to cross, on maximal alert, into enemy territory to eat. Rival Scar and his brutes nevertheless catch scent of them but Freddy’s group escapes, this time. Tables turn for Scar and gang; first they raid Freddy’s border areas for food and, under cover of a thunderstorm – Freddy’s tribe are trying to keep dry – chimps hate getting wet – Scar’s gang attack. Orphaned, and ostracized, Oscar’s last hope is the Alpha Male.
Educational and engrossing, this film appeals to all ages and, based on factual footage shot over four years, Martyn Colbeck and Bill Wallauer’s cinematography is stupendous; extreme close-ups on living organisms are spellbinding, and cleverly substituted at critical points in the storyline. Albeit chimps tend to anthropomorphize subjects, the common chimpanzee filmed in this documentary is known to be reclusive; looking into Oscar, Isha, or other family members’ eyes for prolonged periods is hypnotic. Tim Allen’s narration delivers a storyline with humanizing touches and interpretive VO for the chimpanzee characters, while Nicholas Hooper’s original music accentuates, and contrasts the visual wonders. Candid location clips as end credits roll show us what the filmmakers endured: “There must be an easier way to make a living, but it’s not as much fun.”
In 1960 there were one million chimpanzees worldwide – today one-fifth that number. Clearly these distant relatives need our help; in the documentary’s opening week, a portion of Disneynature’s proceeds will go to the Jane Goodall Institute. Disney should dedicate more money to films in this genre, instead of toward dolling up a 10-year-old clownfish into 3-D, nevertheless do support these captivating primates. (Marinell Haegelin)