“Chimpanzee” by Disneynature

Because I’m currently knee-deep in volunteering for the Wildscreen Film Festival in Bristol (it’s been amazing yesterday, 4 more days to go!) I’m going to do a quick little review about a film I was able to watch yesterday which has not yet been released in Europe: disneynature’s “Chimpanzee”.

First of all a little word about Disneynature. They’re currently working on their seventh film, and are based in France. They are disney-ising nature documentaries – one of their biggest releases (and first) was Earth, produced by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. This film was a sort of Americanised version of Planet Earth and the Blue Planet all put into one film rather than a series. Another big one by them was Oceans, which I’d also heard of but never ended up going to see in the cinema. This film, Chimpanzee, is back with Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, who have chosen the bold subject of chimpanzees.

The film follows a young chimpanzee for about a year or so, and the challenges he faces in life in the troop, as they face the threat of a bordering troop. It’s quite a brave subject, as chimps have now been filmed so many times that it’s difficult to get any new footage or do something different with what has been shown to the public before. It has been in the cinema in the States for a while, but has been hesitant about its European audience.

I will start off by saying that it’s very Disney. The music (they use a lot of fairy-esque orchestra and the main song reminds you a bit of the Jungle Book), the narration (Tim Allen speaks very slowly, and likes to put in some ‘mmm’s when they’re chewing) and the general anthropomorphism of the animals. It won’t appeal to all, and there are professionals who I spoke to after who it didn’t appeal to. But don’t let that put you off going to see it.

The filming was great – there were some stunning cutaway shots, and close-ups of the faces and other body parts of the animals. The foley was excellent. One thing I particularly noticed is they did a great job of creating a sense of atmosphere by, for example, having background sounds of a chimp trying to break open a nut when it’s nowhere to be seen on screen. They also captured some behaviours you don’t often see on camera – like chimps sniffing the ground for tracks. The aerial shots were stunning.

Cinematographically there were also bits which I think didn’t work so well – they had some time lapses and slowed down sequences which didn’t really fit in with the story and were used to fill time (fungi taking over the forest floor). They re-used footage quite obviously sometimes, with the chimps’ behaviour and with the scenery shots. The story at one point wasn’t very clear (who the main chimp, Oscar, was or wasn’t with) and I felt the narration didn’t work at one point, which was slow and calm most of the time but had to talk over a fast-action bit, and Mr. Allen got very excited and passionate – much in the vain of those American cop shows you see on TV.

It’s being released in December, and I would still recommend you to see it. But if you like your nature documentaries to be calm, composed, and letting the video speak for itself, don’t get your hopes up too high.

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