A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
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
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.
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The narrator says "What an idiot" in one line. "Oh my God" is said.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.