Monday 14 October 2019

Remarkable story of Oscar the baby chimp

Fiilm Review: Chimpanzee (G, general release, 78 minutes) Director: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield Stars: Tim Allen

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

In the Disney nature films I watched as a child, even the fiercest animals were anthropomorphised into cuddly and caring members of their communities.

They were given names, like Fred and Betty, and in some cases they even talked, but that kind of nonsense has gone out of fashion now. Or so I thought, but this beautifully photographed new film from Disney turns the story of an abandoned baby chimp into a three-reel melodrama.

In fairness, it is based on an extraordinary true story filmed over four years in the rainforests of the Tai National Park in west Africa.

Oscar, our hero, is a mischievous and affectionate baby chimp whose cosy life with his loving mother, Isha, is rudely interrupted when their tribe is attacked by a rival chimp colony. Oscar gets separated from Isha, who's later killed by a leopard.

Alone and rejected by the group's females, Oscar seems destined to grow weak and die until something remarkable happens: he's adopted by the tribe's leader, Freddy, an unheard of occurrence.

Chimpanzee is very nice to look at, and at 70-odd minutes is a perfect length for younger children. Some of the sequences are extraordinary, for instance an extended scene in which the chimps cooperate strategically to hunt down a monkey.

We don't see them pulling the poor creature to bits of course, which is fair enough in a kids' film.

But Tim Allen's voiceover does become absurdly anodyne at times. Neither Allen not the film's makers, for instance, can possibly have felt qualified to announce that "Isha couldn't be happier with her new baby boy". Chimps are not people, no matter how much we want them to be.

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