Truth really is stranger than fiction.
There is simply no way that Disney could have planned for something as dramatic and unexpected as the adoption of a young, orphaned chimpanzee by such an unlikely male chimp. When we interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall after viewing Chimpanzee, she mentioned that during 52 years of intense observations, she only knew of one other case of an alpha male adopting and raising a baby on his own. The situation that the Disneynature team caught on film was very, very rare.
And very, very powerful to watch.
After we interviewed Dr. Goodall, we were able to meet with Directors Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield, who provided some interesting insight into how the movie was made and how they dealt with the unexpected death of their main character’s mother.
“Breaking the bad news…”
Alastair: “We actually rang up Disney and said, ‘Sorry, guys. We spent most of your money, and you haven’t got a movie,’ because, obviously, Disney movies have to have a happy ending, and….
Mark: “It wasn’t looking like one.”
Alastair confirmed that for a 2 to 3 year old chimpanzee like Oscar to be orphaned was basically a death sentence. There really wasn’t much hope for him unless another, older chimpanzee stepped forward to volunteer to be Oscar’s adoptive parent.
Alastair said, “The scientists have been working with those chimpanzees for 30 years and have never, ever seen that to happen. And so for that to happen was fantastic for Oscar, but, my goodness, if we’d written the script exactly as we’d wanted, we wouldn’t have, in our wildest dreams, have had that happen. It’s just such a lovely story, because male chimpanzees are such macho guys. Their brains are a third as big as ours, but they have three times as much muscle. And when you meet them they are just…wow.
And to see the intimate grooming — I mean, other than suckling, which, clearly, he couldn’t do, that guy did absolutely everything for Oscar. And so it was — it was a dream come true for us as filmmakers. Absolutely.”
On choosing the cast
We also discussed how they filmmakers chose their cast – how did they decide which chimpanzees were the “good guys” and which were the rivals? And how did they chose to follow Oscar out of all of the baby chimpanzees?
Alastair: “Most chimpanzees in the wild are completely frightened of human beings. So the only chimps that you can work with are what are called habituated chimps, chimps where scientists have spent literally five to ten years getting the chimps used to a human presence.
Jane Goodall was one of the very first people to do it. And Christophe Boesch, where we worked in the Tai Forest in Africa, was maybe the second. And they’ve known these chimps.
We always knew we wanted to start it with a baby chimp. 50 percent of chimpanzees die in their first five years of their lives. We chose Oscar partly because of Isha (his mother), because we knew that Isha was a really good mum.
And we thought that there was a really high chance that he would survive. And also he had an older brother who we thought would become a bit of a star. Originally. Interestingly, that never developed. We wrote a script of classics, a 60-page script, and we were constantly changing the whole time. Obviously, the chimpanzees never read the script. But …
Mark cut in: “Lucky. If they had, the film wouldn’t have been as good. Literally, this is a better film than our script.”
The entire crew’s dedication and hard work through 700 days of filming (spread over three and a half years) truly shines. But in the end they were just in the right place at the right time. The real stars of this movie are little Oscar with the courageous spirit, and the adult male who would adopt him after he had been left alone.
I know that Chimpanzee is all I’ve been talking about lately, but I can’t stress enough how important it is that you go out and see this inspirational film.
Join me soon for my interview and surprise hug from the McClain sisters, pictured here with the directors.
See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzees
Chimpanzee opens on Friday, April 20, 2012. See Chimpanzee during opening week (April 20-26) and a donation will be made in your honor to the Jane Goodall Institute to help protect chimpanzees.
Connect with Chimpanzee and Disneynature:
Disney and Global Resort Homes invited me to Florida to attend the red carpet premiere of Chimpanzee and other events this past week. My travel and most expenses were paid for, but as always opinions are my own.
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