Two of the most prominent establishments that film nature documentaries these days are the BBC and Disney. The BBC tends to focus on a more straight delivery with a dose of epic-ness thrown in. DisneyNature, however, focuses their films around a story as their crews follow a select group of animals, capturing their plights and good fortunes alike. This past weekend, following a year after its highly successful African Cats, DisneyNature brings us the highly touted Chimpanzee.
Without a doubt, African Cats is my favorite nature documentary of all time (yes, even slightly more than BBC’s very comprehensive Planet Earth). Remaining on that high of just watching African Cats again recently, I eagerly approached Chimpanzee with the same skybound expectations. Tim Allen returns to Disney after the Toy Story trilogy, taking on the role of narrator here. He does a proficient job guiding audiences through the story that focuses on a little chimpanzee, affectionately known as Oscar. Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say Oscar and his clan/family find themselves at odds in the dense rainforest with a rival clan of chimps.
While drama and encouragement fill the landscape of this film, it just didn’t have the pop that African Cats did. Perhaps I’m not doing it justice by consistently comparing this documentary to that. Still, I really wanted to love this movie. After all, the crew that shot Chimpanzee went through hell and high water to accomplish this project. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near my level of expectations. The footage is exceptional as far as chimpanzees go, though there is something that significantly hampers capturing them on camera versus big cats on open plains. The dense jungle regularly hampers movement shots, which basically means there’s usually a tree in the way. It’s much easier to capture a cheetah running through flatlands versus chimps in a jungle on a frantic scatter and climb. It’s certainly not the crew’s fault, just the nature of the beast (literally).
Chimpanzee just didn’t have the engaging qualities its predecessor did. Maybe it was an appreciation for one animal (big cats) more than others (chimpanzees). Maybe it was truly lacking that extra something, but I felt the same underwhelming emotion walking out of this just as I did when I watched Disney’s Oceans. There was something lackluster in this film, like the lack of variety here versus other documentaries. I would still say this is a quality film that provides great educational content and outstanding cinematography, but there are several other nature films I would put before this one.