At about the same time the young David Attenborough was making televised natural history with Zoo Quest, Disney was also making strides into the wonderful world of documentaries with its ground-breaking True-Life Adventures.
But while Attenborough’s approach - and by extension, the BBC’s - has always been to simply show and tell, Disney generally prefers to take the anthropomorphic route, forever painting animal behaviour in a human light.
Thus as former BBC filmmakers working under the Disneynature banner (for the second time after Earth), Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield find themselves somewhere in the middle.
The middle of the Ivory Coast rainforest, to be exact, to bring us the story of Oscar the infant chimpanzee.
We follow Oscar as he learns the art of survival from his mother and the wider social group, from hunting monkeys and mastering the use of tools (always a tough nut to crack) to the serious business of mucking about and annoying one’s elders.
But it’s not all japes for the apes, as a tragedy comes out of nowhere to leave Oscar’s future in the balance. Fortunately, he’s saved by an extraordinary act of alpha-male behaviour that has never previously been caught on film.
Clever editing enhances the drama, while time-lapse sequences and crystal-clear photography complete a captivating picture of jungle life.
Canopies shrouded in mist; fantastical, night-time displays of luminous fungi; vast, living carpets made entirely of ants. Technically, Chimpanzee is a marvellous achievement. However...
Raising awareness of the natural world is hugely important. And there’s no harm in putting it into human context, especially for kids who may never have ventured outside urban area.
But, as delivered by the jovial Tim Allen, Chimpanzee's script is so heavily humanised it gives the idea that wild animals should be viewed in the same way as people. Which is somewhat reckless.
Particularly galling is the incessant portrayal of the rival chimp group as bad guys. Where Oscar’s clan is led by the “wise and experienced” Freddy and carefully referred to in the passive (“team”, “society”, “family”), the bunch from beyond the ridge and their fearsome leader Scar (no Trevors or Kevins here) are a relentlessly aggressive “mob”, “army” and “gang”.
We’re all rooting for Oscar, so why present his natural competitors as evil? After all, they only want the same thing.
If you want another Lion King, make another Lion King. Real life is about survival of the fittest, not the cutest.