The film was released by Disneynature and directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. It is the sixth film produced by the Disneynature label, following Earth, The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, Oceans, Wings of Life, and African Cats. It was released in theaters on April 20, 2012, just before Earth Day, April 22.
Oscar is the nickname of a young chimpanzee in his toddler years. He is part of a close-knit tribe of chimpanzees. They occupy a forest territory which is rich in native fruits, nuts, and figs, among other things. The chimps hunt small tree monkeys, and they also eat termites collected with primitive tools made from sticks. They also use rocks as tools to crack nuts. Oscar is tended by his mother, nicknamed Isha, and from her he begins learning many things about how to survive in the jungle. In the chaos of an attempted raid by a rival gang of chimpanzees led by 'Scar', Isha is injured and separated from the group and her son. As told by the narrator, Isha is most probably the victim of a nocturnal leopard.
Unaware of his mother's death, Oscar spends much of his time looking for her. He finds trouble in recalling the things she taught him and begins to lose weight quickly. He attempts to find another mother to take care of him. However, none of the females can afford him, already having young of their own to raise. As time goes on, Oscar is rejected by nearly every chimp in the group, until the only one left to ask is the tough-skinned leader Freddy. However, as Oscar follows the leader and imitates him, it is soon revealed that the unlikely duo may work out. The two gradually warm up to each other more and more, until one day Freddy lets Oscar ride on his back, something normally only mother chimps do. Genetic testing showed that Freddy was not related to Oscar.
As the rivals prepare for attack, Freddy is forced to take time away from Oscar to organize the other members of the group, and this leaves the young chimp confused. Scar leads a vicious attack, but because of the unity of Freddy's group they are driven away into the jungle. A few months later, it is revealed that the bond between Freddy and Oscar has continued to grow, and that life in the group is slowly returning to normal.
The film took over four years to create, due to the difficulties of filming in Taï National Park during the wet season and capturing usable footage of common chimpanzees, a species that is known to act reclusive to human activity.
"Oscar" has been portrayed by several different chimpanzees in the movie.
Although studies suggest that chimpanzees are capable of committing acts of altruism, Oscar's adoption is the first instance of such an action by the species to be documented on film.
Chimpanzee had its world premiere at Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Among the attendees, were directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, producer Don Hahn, and primatologist Jane Goodall.
Similar to past Disneynature releases, a portion of the film's opening week proceeds were donated to the Jane Goodall Institute for the "See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzees" program to help protect chimpanzees and their habitats. Disney donated $0.20 of every ticket sold, with $100,000 being the bare minimum. After the film's successful debut, Disney extended the campaign into the second weekend.
The film was released in the UK on 3 May 2013.
The McClain Sisters wrote and performed the song "Rise" to be featured as the end credits song for Chimpanzee. The song was released on iTunes on March 23, 2012 and peaked at #4 on Billboard's Kid Digital Songs charts. Its release was in support of Disney's Friends for Change.
Chimpanzee was met with generally positive critical reception; based on 93 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds a 74% "Certified Fresh" approval rating from critics, with an average score of 6.4/10 and the consensus: "Chimpanzee often anthropomorphizes its subjects, but it's a beautifully filmed, remarkably intimate look at the lives of a family of primates." CinemaScore audiences gave the film a grade "A" rating on an A+ to F scale.