Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
There’s a great part in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” where, during the filming of a parodied “Scream 3” the killer turns out to be a monkey. Horrified, Shannen Doherty turns to director Wes Craven and exclaims, “A monkey, Wes? Jesus, you’re not even trying anymore are you?” Smiling, Craven replies, “The market research says that people love monkeys!” And take it from me, they’re going to love little Oscar, the star of the new documentary, “Chimpanzee.”
Young chimp Oscar spends his days hanging out with his mom. Life is pretty sweet for the little guy. But when the food in their part of the jungle runs low, Oscar’s group must forage in areas that are not friendly, guarded by a rival group of chimps. It’s like “West Side Story” with primates!
Cute as a button (the first five or six times he’s on screen the screening audience let out a collected “awww), Oscar makes for an engaging movie star. The film itself is beautifully shot, with the filmmakers gaining unprecedented access to the secrets of the jungle. The story is pretty straight forward. Find food or fight trying. The chimpanzees must have studied at the Disney school of movie plots. During one of the skirmishes Oscar’s mother just disappears, apparently killed. The rival gang is led by a scowling chimp named Scar. The film is surprisingly “G” rated, which I found strange considering there is an intense sequence where the chimps surround a weaker group of monkeys, capture the slowest one and eat it. I guess if it happens in nature it’s not PG worthy.
The world the chimpanzees make for themselves is pretty amazing. Whether fashioning a bed for themselves by bending tree branches or choosing between a log or a rock to open nuts, it’s clear that these guys are pretty smart. And close. The best scenes are the simple ones…Oscar and his young friends wrestling or just Oscar cradled in his mother’s arms. The magic of the jungle is caught in all its beauty, with special mention to the various time-lapse shots capturing everything from a blossoming flower to a spider making its web. And while Wes Craven believes everyone loves monkeys, I noticed that the majority of the under-5 crowd fidgeted during the screening, usually being taken out of the theatre in tears. But for the over-5 crowd, the film should be a crowd pleaser.