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Monday, April 23, 2012

Review – DisneyNature’s Chimpanzee

As far back as the late 1940’s, Walt Disney was interested in the use of film as a medium to provide nature education.  Walt Disney Productions created the “True Life Adventures” series which ran through 1960, and received numerous awards.  “Seal Island”, released in 1948, was the first in a series that spanned 16 others.  In 2008 The Walt Disney Company founded DisneyNature as a subsidiary to produce and release independent nature documentary films.

Back at the end of February, I had the chance to take my youngest daughter to the Walt Disney Family Museum to meet Don Hahn.  As the producer of her all time favorite movie “Beauty and the Beast” this was a treat extraordinaire.  After getting to meet Don in the morning, receiving a signed copy of his book “Brain Storm” and having him sign a copy of her “Beauty and the Beast” DVD, we spent a pleasant afternoon listening to Don talk about Walt’s nature film adventures.  The session ended with Don providing us with an exclusive preview of DisneyNature’s upcoming release – Chimpanzee, the sixth release from DisneyNature.  The preview just barely did the film the justice it deserved.  Chimpanzee opened to the general public this last Friday, and as of this morning closed out its first weekend in release at #4 in box office receipts.

From the very beginning, the cinematography grabs you and draws you in.  Having learned something about movie making from my interest in Walt Disney, I know a little about how talented matte painters, cinematographer, and director can miraculously plus a scene with the use of matte painting.  I have seen just how a really good matte painting can trick the eye into believing there is more to the scene than is there in reality.  The opening scenes are so magnificent that I had to look closely for any seams that would indicate the use of mattes.  Nothing… just the beautiful work of a master of the camera.  The story is a marvelous blending of on screen antics and actions with a best in narration from Tim “The Toolman Taylor” Allen.

I will not spoil the story by reviewing here; it is something that you truly need to witness for yourself.  I do have friend who take issue with any anthropomorphic design or dialogic in the use of animal characters.  However, chimpanzees are probably one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and in this movie are films in their natural habitat, doing what comes naturally to them…  nothing is staged, so to speak, to show them doing anything which might be considered purely or exclusively human traits.  In this film we are taken into a world rarely seen by only a few humans.  We get to witness events that seldom happen and never before put on film, as well as events of everyday life of two rival groups of chimpanzees, but seldom caught on film.  While Tim Allen’s narration does put a somewhat human interpretation of the visual actions on screen, there is never a moment that looks contrived to create a story, but, merely interpretive of the story unfolding.  This is most likely a credit to the involvement of Jane Goodall, one of the world’s foremost authorities on chimpanzees, in the project.  By the way, it should be noted that Disney is contributing a portion of the first week’s proceeds to the Jane Goodall Insitute.  Bottom line, the story of young Oscar and his unusual foster parent Freddie is not to be missed.

As the film opens and during the closing moments we are treated to a few behind the scenes looks at what the crews experienced while filming this movie.  Braving the harsh inhospitable conditions of the deep African jungles is a testament to the dedication of these amazing individuals who captured all the film footage.  As Don told us during his presentation, this film was 4 years in the making, with a couple of departures from the area because of local government conflicts that could have ended it completely.  Several hundred hours of film was captured for what became the 78 minute feature.  This dedication is something I come to discover is a hallmark of great Disney films in all genres…  the willingness of the cast and crews to sell out to the story.  Some may thing selling out is a bad thing, but it is not!  In this case and many others, selling out is nothing more than doing whatever it takes to get the story.

Well done Disney, well done!!!


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