“When I grow up, I want to be just like Dr. Zira.”

It seems impossible the folks at Disneynature could’ve taken such wonderful nature cinematography and made such a horrible film out of it, but the results are there for all to see in their latest release Chimpanzee. Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield (the folks behind the well regarded TV nature-mini Planet Earth) spent years in the rain forests of Africa filming a struggling band of chimpanzees, but then they strangled the beautiful footage to death with terrible writing and then stabbed it in the face with narration by Tim Allen. Yes, that Tim Allen. Pitched squarely at 1st graders, Chimpanzee veers uncomfortably between pedestrian and forehead slappingly stupid. It should’ve been fun for the whole family, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but the very young being entertained.

The main focus of Chimpanzee is Oscar, a juvenile chimp whose odds of survival are seriously diminished when his mother dies part way into the story. We also spend time with Freddy, the aging alpha male in Oscar’s troupe or pack or barrel or whatever you call a group of chimpanzees. Outnumbered by another collection of chimps (led by one they name “Scar” just in case you’re not sure where your rooting interest is supposed to lie), the story of Oscar and company is laid out a little like The Sharks vs. The Jets with all of the man-made drama that implies. Up to a point, that’s not a bad idea at all, but then we come back to the writing and the delivery by Tim Allen. The eye-rolling anthropomorphizations and goofy jokes are bad enough by themselves, but Allen’s dopey delivery makes them almost unbearable. And yes, he makes a power tool joke… complete with the patented Tim Allen grunting. I kept hoping they wouldn’t go there while knowing all along that it was inevitable. It was probably the reason they thought of Allen in the first place.

It’s really too bad, because there’s a lot of terrific footage and it’s a wonderful opportunity for an extended visit with chimps in their natural environment. There’s some great time lapse photography and some breathtaking aerial shots that on their own are worth seeing, even if the film doesn’t really show us anything we haven’t seen before or add anything to what we already know of chimpanzees. The most interesting part of the film actually is the closing credits which features a lot of behind the scenes footage showing how the wonderful images were captured. This is a much more interesting story than the trumped up chimp gangster picture that comes before it.

If only the filmmakers had had the confidence to shut Allen up and just let the pictures speak for themselves without a lot of foolish commentary Chimpanzee could’ve been a nice looking and relatively entertaining (if not overly informative) trip to the rain forest. Perhaps the studio was concerned that elementary school attention spans would be overly taxed without Allen’s ongoing silliness. Unfortunately, it’s the patience of adults that takes the hit instead.

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All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated