chimpanzee: an adoption story

We got a chance to see the new film Chimpanzee by DisneyNature, a stunning, up-close documentary that captures the life of a young chimpanzee. DisneyNature is the production company behind the documentaries Earth and Ocean.  We are huge fans of nature documentaries in these parts, so I was excited to see one focusing on chimpanzees. The preview alone to this movie had me in tears, and I was curious how my kids would do with a feature-length documentary.

The movie was very well-done.  The scenery was gorgeous and so many times it was hard to believe that a film crew was able to capture such real-life, intimate moments in the lives of these animals in the wild. The film focuses on the relationship between a mother chimpanzee and a new baby, a precocious chimp named Oscar. We’re able to observe many tender moments between the two, but while Oscar is still but a toddler, his mother is killed.  (This is alluded to in the previews, so I hope I’m not giving anything away).  The mother’s death does not occur onscreen, and it isn’t discussed explicitly, so even though it is a mature theme the movie is still very appropriate for children of all ages.

What happens next is something the filmmakers never imagined to be the focus of their movie: Oscar is left alone, and rejected by the other adult chimps in his tribe.  This is a rather harrowing segment to watch, because it’s clear that he is not going to survive until another chimpanzee steps up to parent him.  Of course, as an adoptive family the theme of a toddler in need of a family struck close to home, and it was an emotional aspect of the movie.  Remarkably, it is a male chimp who steps in to act as surrogate father for Oscar, and the second part of the film focuses on their budding relationship. I think this aspect of the movie set it apart from other nature films, because it was also very much a movie about family and survival, and the bonds that extend beyond biology.

We talked with the kids quite a bit after the movie, and each of them independently referred to Oscar’s adoption as their favorite part of the movie.  While it’s obviously nonfiction, I felt that the adoption themes in this movie were handled very well.  There was no sugar-coating the loss of his mother and the grief and fear that Oscar felt, but his adoption was a redemption of that loss. 

The movie also featured some action scenes and dramatic conflicts with a neighboring tribe of chimps that kept the kids enthralled for the length of the film.  I would honestly say that this is a movie I think anyone, at any age, would enjoy.  Here’s a little peak at some behind-the-scenes footage on the making of Chimpanzee.


Just a note: for every moviegoer who sees Chimpanzee opening week (now through Thursday), Disneynature will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute.  Founded in 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute continues Dr. Goodall’s pioneering research on chimpanzee behavior started more than 50 years ago—research that transformed scientific perceptions of the relationship between humans and animals.

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