This is the fourth is a series of documentaries from Disneynature: Earth, Deep Blue, and African Cats, all of which are characterized by brilliant and inventive coverage of both small and large events in the natural world. Although this one is flawed by the intrusive and often silly narration of Tim Allen, it almost manages to overcome this deficiency with its unique depiction of nurturing by a male chimpanzee.
Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield focus our attention on a a band of chimpanzees living in the Ivory Coast's Tai Forest where the constant search for food keeps them busy. Freddy is the leader of an extended family of 36 chimps. Three-year old Oscar is cherished by his mother Isha who is supervising his exploration of their home in the forest. But when she is killed during an attack by a rival gang of chimps, young Oscar is very vulnerable. Other mothers in the group have their hands full taking care of their own young ones. As Oscar gets weaker and weaker, Freddy adopts him and shocks the community by carrying him on his back and teaching him the secrets of survival.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers decision to set up the drama of their story with the ethically debased structure of dualism — good chimps vs. bad chimps — really detracts from the noble depiction of Freddy's nurturing capacities. The leader of the band of chimps that intrude upon Freddy's territory is called "Scar" and the group is described as a "mob" and a "gang." Such conflicts between groups of chimps in the wild do happen, we learned from chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall in a television interview. But we would have been happier with a more objective observation of this reality.
The film is being released for Earth Day weekend, and DisneyNature will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute from the ticket sales during the opening week of April 20 - 26, 2012. So do see this nature film and use it as an opportunity to talk about the state of the world for chimps face today. In this case, the outside group was not "bad." They were just trying to get access to a nut grove. Habitat loss is affecting all chimps.