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Originally published Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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Movie review

Cute, moving 'Chimpanzee' swings between jungle, editing room

A movie review of "Chimpanzee," a Disney nature documentary — about a chimp struggling for survival in the jungle — that revives an old, and sometimes controversial, filmmaking approach to narrative.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Chimpanzee,' a documentary narrated by Tim Allen. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. 78 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.

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A nature documentary very much like the ones Disney used to make mid-20th century, the new, touching and rather miraculous "Chimpanzee" — also from the family-friendly studio — may very likely be a first experience for some kids.

As in days of old, "Chimpanzee" (narrated by Tim Allen) was made by a film crew dropped into the wilderness for a period, shooting footage of animals doing what they do, then constructing a compelling (and, to some extent, possibly synthetic) narrative back in the editing room.

The story that emerges here concerns an infant chimp the producers call Oscar. A cute little guy, Oscar's early life in a jungle with a doting mother seems idyllic. Attacks by rival chimps lead to a great loss for Oscar, who is left alone and rebuffed by other busy mom-chimps.

A surprising and moving solution emerges, one that plays extremely well both as moving drama and antic comedy. The makers of "Chimpanzee" appear to have captured a lot of genuine and genuinely lovely footage of instinctive compassion among animals.

But how much tweaking and sweetening during editing is involved is hard to say. It's impossible not to wonder if one is being sold a bill of goods when it's too easy to link disparate action images from different times and places and call it a whole-cloth scene.

Critics used to complain about that kind of Disney manipulation. But perhaps a more important tradition revived in "Chimpanzee" outweighs other considerations. As with many of Disney's classic works, "Chimpanzee" doesn't try to protect children from life's harsher realities: violence, fear, hunting, death and loss.

Just as entire generations have survived the trauma of Bambi's mom's fate, so will the next generation survive "Chimpanzee."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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