Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Chimpanzee Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Chimp "adoption" documentary has some scary moments.
  • G
  • 2012
  • 78 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 16 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about how chimpanzee social groups work and how they live communally and band together to hunt, gather, and defend their territory. Children will see how an orphaned chimp is at the mercy of the other females in his clan: If Oscar can't find someone to help feed him and teach him about life in the forest, he'll die. Kids will also learn that it's unusual for an alpha male to make a "maternal" connection with a defenseless member of his group.

Positive Messages

The message here is about how orphans need love and how an unlikely animal steps up to save an orphan from certain death. The unique relationship teaches us about how, even in the animal kingdom, a child doesn't have to be left behind just because its biological mother is gone. That said, unlike other nature documentaries, there's no call to action or conservation in Chimpanzee (although some proceeds will support the Jane Goodall Institute); it's more of a glimpse at the life of chimpanzees and how they must protect their own territories and natural resources in order to survive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

It's always tricky to evaluate animal behavior with human sensibilities and values, but from a human perspective, Oscar's mother always acts with the selflessness and attentiveness that humans expect from their own mothers. Freddie acts completely out of character but for the benefit of little Oscar, even though it might have been better for the clan for him to concentrate on tactical issues to protect his territory than to invest in the younger member of his society. By bestowing his protection on Oscar, the alpha chimp paves the way for others to do the same.

Violence & Scariness

Some children will be upset by the scenes of suspense and peril during the various confrontations between the two chimpanzee groups. Scar and his much larger and stronger family attack Freddie, but the violence is edited quickly, so you can't really tell what's going on or which chimpanzees are injured. But the narration explains that Oscar's mother is hurt and can't get off the forest floor. Then, during a frighteningly loud thunderstorm, a leopard is shown, yells are heard, and the narration says that Oscar's mother "will never return." Her death is then referenced several times. The chimps also plan and execute a successful monkey hunt, but audiences don't see the dead animal.

Sexy Stuff

The narrator says "What an idiot" in one line. "Oh my God" is said.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chimpanzee is a beautifully filmed, African-set nature documentary about how a chimpanzee community must defend its territory to survive. The central "character" in the story is a baby chimp named Oscar, and some children will be disturbed when a confrontation with a rival chimp clan leaves him orphaned (his mother's death is referenced several times), lonely, and desperate for affection. The violence is edited so quickly that younger viewers aren't likely to pick up on anything bloody happening, but the narrator does say when animals are killed -- including a Colobus monkey the chimpanzees hunt together. Kids interested in animals will learn about the way chimpanzees live and interact, as well as witnessing a unique relationship between a juvenile and alpha male chimp.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byMammyO October 24, 2018

Not for sensitive kids

Even my 11 year old couldn't watch past the death of oscars mother. Really detailed account of him being alone and rejected. Later adoption doesn't ma... Continue reading
Adult Written byGamer4056 May 22, 2018

Chimpanzee Parent Guide

This movie was an enjoyable experience but, there are scary moments. Scary moments: The narrator says that Oscar's mother was killed during an attack made... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 25, 2017

A Moving Documentary That Isn't Quite All That

Deep in an African forest lives a family of chimpanzees, including a baby named Oscar. Displaying the playful curiosity and ingenuity of fellow primates, Oscar... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 December 30, 2012

magnificent documentary is heart breaking to watch

this wonderful, expertly filmed, but incredibly sad docu about an orphaned chimp pushes the boundaries for a G rated film. even though its mostly mild and not s... Continue reading

What's the story?

Veteran nature documentarian Alastair Fothergill follows a CHIMPANZEE community in this nature film narrated by comic actor Tim Allen. The first half of the documentary focuses on the everyday life of the African chimpanzees led by alpha male Freddie. The newest member of Freddie's group is an infant named Oscar. After getting a taste for how the chimpanzees eat, hunt, sleep, and play, "dramatic tension" is introduced in the form of a rival chimpanzee group with a menacing elder alpha named Scar. When Scar's chimps engage Freddie's in a vicious fight for territory and food resources, Oscar's mother is injured and eventually dies. Alone and frightened, baby Oscar must be taken in by another caretaker or face certain death. After he's rejected by all of the other females in the clan, Oscar finds an unlikely foster parent in Freddie, who claims Oscar as his own.

Is it any good?

Nature documentaries are almost always visually dazzling, and Chimpanzee is no exception. Fothergill's team (as viewers learn in the end credits) endured all manner of inconveniences and injuries to capture these intimate shots of the chimpanzees and their surroundings. Whether it's a close-up of the chimps lazily grooming each other, an action sequence of them executing a Colobus monkey hunt, or just a sweeping pan of the entire forest landscape, the camera work is precise and evocative of a world that most of us will never see in person.

Where Chimpanzee falters is its narration. While Allen's joke-filled monologue will please some viewers, those who prefer less made-up animal "dialogue" and more straightforward, observational narration will find Allen a tad gimmicky. His narration doesn't just explain what's happening -- it inserts conversations and thoughts like "What an idiot" that are a bit over the top and unnecessary. Ultimately, not much "happens" in Chimpanzee, but it's still an amazing look at the rare bond between an alpha male and his youngest kin. It's delightful, if at times heartbreaking, to watch a society of chimpanzees collaborate and interact in ways that are incredibly similar to human beings.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of wildlife documentaries. What attracts families to nature films?

  • How is the narration in Chimpanzee different than that of other documentaries? Do you prefer the straightforward approach or Tim Allen's jokier one?

  • "Alpha chimp" Scar and his crew are depicted as antagonists for wanting to start a confrontation with Freddie's clan, but aren't all the animals just acting like animals? Both groups of chimpanzees just want to survive, so is it fair for the documentary to portray one group as the "good" guys and their rivals as menacing enemies?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

Themes & Topics

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