Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What April 24th Means To Me: Chimpanzees

My friend convinced me to accompany her to a screening of Disney's "Chimpanzee," and I figured there were worse ways to spend time than watching a bunch of cute chimpanzees doing whatever they do.  It felt like it would be one of those movies that everyone would love, say is beautiful, and then quickly forget.  And chimps are fascinating, right? Hell, if you dressed them up in suits and stuck em in an office for eight hours, I'd watch them pretend to answer phones the entire time.

And this is why I was surprised that the movie really sucked.

I suppose I came into it figuring it would be a documentary, and though it sort of posed itself as one, it created this simplistic, fake story that made it feel like one of those D-rate half entertaining/half educational movies from the 70's/80's that they'd show us in elementary school when the teachers had conferences or something (it was maybe as entertaining, but less educational than Voyage of the Mimi!).  In fact, the whole thing may have well been thrown together with stock footage, sort of like how the creators of Flipper just used the same four shots of the dolphin to tell their story (I'm not claiming this is what happened, it clearly wasn't, but they probably could have achieved the same thing if they had).

I don't know why the filmmakers originally decided to traverse the jungle in search of chimpanzees, but they did find something extraordinary while filming.  After a baby lost his mother to a leopard attack, the orphaned chimp was adopted by the alpha male, which apparently is unheard of, and I suppose was touching (though they didn't even pay this off well).  Knowing they had this beautiful footage, they decided (and this is complete speculation) to construct a story around rival chimp gangs (West (Africa) Side Story) that battle over precious nut groves and fig trees in order to ensure survival.  We never actually see these two groups together (other than some footage of fighting that might as well be any chimpanzees) and I'll safely assume, due to the lack of footage and really simplistic storytelling, that this "plot line" was completely fabricated.  Not to mention, the film thanked three separate countries in the credits (Uganda/Ivory Coast/Gabon), which suggests they shot in all three, though we were lead to believe that the chimps were battling over an area that couldn't have been bigger than a few square miles.  Also, for you geography whizzes, those countries do not border each other. 

The most entertaining part of the movie was actually the end credits, when they give us a glimpse into how the filmmakers shot the movie (which is something I thought about while watching.  I wondered how much danger they put themselves in to create this boring movie.)  So that probably tells you everything you need to know.

Regardless, maybe the Disney name should have warned me, but I just expected something more than an overly narrated (by Tim Allen..and yes, he even had a signature grunt in there) story about anthropomorphized animals fighting over nut groves in the African jungle.  Perhaps they really should have dressed up the monkeys in suits and had them throw office equipment at eachother instead.

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