Fifty years ago, one million chimpanzees existed in the wild. Today, only a fifth of those still remain. That fact alone is compelling enough for me to see Disneynature’s newest nature documentary film titled Chimpanzee. But the film is so much more than a visual documentation of the behaviors of these extraordinary animals. Behind every Disney film is a story, and this one of a baby chimp who struggles to survive after losing his mother, is nothing short of brilliant.
As the film opens, we get a glimpse of the day-to-day happenings of a group of chimpanzees. The overall tone of the film at this time is upbeat and playful, and the music, which has a jazzy, urban feel to it, compliments the early scenes well. We meet Oscar, a young, playful chimp who immediately captured my heart, and his mother and sole caretaker Isha. Watching the bond between Isha and Oscar is incredibly moving and I found myself thinking about my own relationship with my children. This tightly knit group is led by Freddy, an older, wiser, chimpanzee who’s job is to keep them all safe. Some of his “responsibilities” include leading the group to sources of food, grooming, and heading up any confrontation with rival groups.
As the story progresses, we learn of a rival group of chimpanzees headed up by alpha male leader Scar. Food scarcity is a threat to the survival of these animals, and because chimpanzees are highly territorial, it’s not uncommon for them to fight to assert their dominance and establish boundaries. During one particular encounter, Isha is injured and goes missing. I think it’s important for families to know that while the music changes and the scenes get dark, Disney handles her demise well. You will see and hear the chimps running about during this scene, but there is nothing violent or graphic about the encounter.
A young chimpanzee in the wild without a mother has very little chance for survival. Before Isha and Oscar were separated, Oscar depended on her for food, milk, grooming, etc. At the time of their separation, he was not prepared to be out in the wild on his own. Oscar spends days looking for her, but inevitably realizes she is gone. One of the most heartbreaking moments of the film is watching Oscar go from chimp to chimp, only to be rejected. During the film, audiences will learn that unfortunately, a mother can only care for her baby and is not able to care for another baby chimp. All hope seems lost as Oscar becomes frail without adequate nutrition.
But then something unprecedented occurs…after repeated approaches to Freddy, he finally allows Oscar to ride on his back…just as Isha had done. I tear up when I recall this moment because it is incredibly moving. It is so rare for an alpha male to adopt and care for a young chimp, that Dr. Jane Goodall only recalls one other such incidence in over 50 years and it’s never before been captured on film.
Visually, the film is breathtaking. Having seen it twice, I spent more time last week focused on the visuals..those intimate moments between Isha and Oscar…the change of seasons depicted through incredible time lapse scenes. It is through the cinematography that audiences will grasp the concept that everything in that forest is a living, breathing, phenomenon. It forced me to stop and focus and think about even the tiniest of details like a rain drop hanging on a leaf.
Here are my top five compelling reasons families should see Disneynature Chimpanzee this week:
1. Intimate, authentic, never-before-seen footage of a species on the brink of extinction
2. An unlikely story that spans across the species
3. Nature raw and untouched
4. Perspective…Appreciation….and you just might learn something
5. And finally…just by seeing the film, you’ll have made a difference
No compensation was received for this post. Travel expenses provided by Disney.