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Posted on Apr 15, 2012 by Alex Woo
By Alexandra Cheney If you think actors locking themselves in a trailer is bad, imagine having to film them on the run. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield had to chase their camera-shy stars through West African forests. Their film, Disneynature's "Chimpanzee," shot over four years, follows a baby chimp named Oscar and his family as they live, hunt and defend their lands in Ivory Coast's Taï National Park. It is slated to open on about 1,500 screens nationwide Friday, in time for Earth Day on Sunday. Disneynature, a unit of Walt Disney Co., will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute for each moviegoer who sees the film during opening week. Messrs. Fothergill and Linfield first pitched "Chimpanzee" to the studio as a 70-page "infinitely engaging animal comedy drama," said Mr. Linfield. Chimpanzees share 98% of their genetic makeup with humans, their closest living relatives. Mr. Linfield believes that closeness will help engage families, Disneynature's core audience. "Every mother is going to relate to having a baby; every kid is going to relate to being playful and adventurous," he said. Before making the picture, the pair created a wish list of shots and collaborated with the Franco-Swiss evolutionary biologist Christophe Boesch, who has been studying Oscar's family for 36 years, to ensure direct and continuous access to the chimps. "Chimpanzee," narrated by Tim Allen, is the fourth film released under the Disneynature label. The first three releases, "Earth," which Messrs. Fothergill and Linfield co-directed, "Oceans," and "African Cats" are among the top 10 highest-grossing documentary films, earning $32 million, $19 million and $15 million, respectively. "The word documentary has baggage with it, people don't feel like paying money to get preached to," said Don Hahn, an executive producer on all four Disneynature titles, adding, "This is entertainment." Messrs. Fothergill and Linfield, who are also executive producers of the new movie, consider "Chimpanzee" a nature film, avoiding the documentary label. "Cinema is now artifice with computers and [computer-generated imagery]," said Mr. Fothergill. "Our film is real—it's about the natural world, pure and precious." In part to limit the number of scientific facts and figures cited in the film, the executive producers chose to do a coffee-table book about the making of "Chimpanzee," as well as five other books targeted at kids of all ages. The books were printed by Disney Press and Disney Editions. There also is a free downloadable educator's guide, in which teachers can find supplemental materials. "The movie exists beyond the screen, and we wanted to make sure people could take something home," said Mr. Hahn. New York-based jewelry designer Alex Woo has designed two pendants inspired by "Chimpanzee," both available in 14-carat gold or sterling silver, and ranging from $158 to $1,098, a part of which will be donated to charity. "I appeal to a different audience than the traditional Disney audience," said Ms. Woo, who is currently designing the Carrie Bradshaw necklace for the coming television series "The Carrie Diaries," a prequel to "Sex and the City." Ms. Woo collaborated with Disneynature in 2011 to design similar-style pendants for "African Cats." She said she has raised more than $5,000 for charity from that line. Ms. Woo's designs for "Chimpanzee" have been posted on the movie's Facebook page and film website. A version of this article appeared April 16, 2012, on page B6 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Chimp Family Just Being Itself Stars in Nature Film From Disney.
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