UM professor consults on Disney film "Chimpanzee"

Apr 20, 2012

The movie Chimpanzee from Disney Nature opens in theaters today.

It follows a young chimp, Oscar, who is separated from his troop, and is adopted by an alpha male named Freddie.

John Mitani was a scientific consultant on the film. He's a primate behavioral ecologist and University of Michigan Professor of Anthropology. Mitani’s research centers on the behavior of male chimps and why males co-operate.

According to Mitani, it's not uncommon for young chimps to be separated from their parents. Often they are adopted by close relatives. But what's unusual in this story is that Oscar was adopted by an adult male chimp "which rarely or never has been seen," Mitani says.

“It’s not as if male animals, male primates, male chimps are generally helpful to others. Why he should go out of his way to help this poor little helpless infant who was not obviously his own is really the thing that is quite interesting and unusual in this.”

The film took three years to make, and actually follows two main groups of chimps, one filmed in west Africa and one filmed in east Africa. Through the magic of movie making we get one story. Mitani recognizes the film has two qualities. One scientific and the other purely entertaining.

You can see the movie trailer here: