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Movie Review: Nature Doc Chimpanzee Cranks Up the Cuteness—and Conflict

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CHIMPANZEE, Oscar, Freddy
CHIMPANZEE, Oscar, Freddy Cecile Burban/Disney

Review in a Hurry: Swinging into theaters in time for Earth Day, this beautifully photographed documentary follows baby chimp Oscar—not played by Andy Serkis—and his family through an African rainforest. Your own wild tribe will be entertained by the feisty hero and his monkey shenanigans.

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The Bigger Picture: Chimpanzee is safer than a trip to the zoo. You won't see any primates here throwing their poop or engaging in, um, other monkey business—this is Disney, after all. So load up the kids for this True-Life Adventures installment, the fourth in the Disneynature series, following Earth, Oceans and African Cats.

In the Taï Forest in the Ivory Coast, a spirited young chimpanzee named Oscar learns the ways of the jungle world under the watchful eye of his mama, Isha. Adorable Oscar plays with friends, learns to climb trees, and—in the funniest sequence—tries to crack open nuts with branches and stones.

READ: James Van Der Beek Goes Old School and Organic for Mother Earth

Tragedy strikes Oscar's family when they're confronted by a rival band of chimpanzees, led by the menacing Scar. Wait, Scar? Is Disney cross-promoting The Lion King with a same-named villain?

Little orphaned Oscar has to fend for himself until he finds a surprising ally in Freddy, the alpha-male leader. The filmmakers attempt to drum up additional drama with a nut-grove turf war and potential mutiny within Scar's ranks, but it feels like manufactured conflict. Heck, you could create a drinking game with all the references to Scar's scary cohorts—his "gang," "thugs," "army," "troops" and "mob."

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Chimpanzee showcases gorgeous mist-covered vistas, majestic waterfalls, and breathtaking time-lapse photography. And Tim Allen's friendly narration helps tie the story together without getting too precious.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Wee ones (or anyone, for that matter) might be upset by an intense sequence where the chimpanzees hunt, kill, and eat a small monkey, though it's bloodless and mostly off-screen.

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