Usually, nature documentaries for me are like a trip to the zoo–something I’m usually happy to put off, though I love that they’re there and available. So it was surprising when I checked out Netflix’s CHIMP EMPIRE on a lark and found it utterly enthralling. Who knew nature could write Shakespeare?
Welcome to the Ngogo rainforest in Uganda, where scientists discovered the largest known group of chimpanzees living in the wild. Humans have been studying them so long that the chimps just sort of roll with people being around. This provided the filmmakers the opportunity to capture incredible footage of their daily lives and shape them into a narrative about family and power.
Some time ago, the group split apart into the larger Central Group dominated by alpha male Jackson and his lieutenant Miles, and the Western Group. The Western Group is smaller, under tougher stress to get food, and therefore they are far more collaborative. The Central Group is beginning to become stressed by restless chimps who want to become king and have begun testing the waters. Sensing weakness, the Western Group decides it’s time to see if they can expand their turf–and maybe settle their old feud with Jackson once and for all.
The chimpanzees are beautiful to watch, especially the highly expressive children, and they all come across as individuals with distinct personalities. The jungle feels like another world, one that deserves protecting. Narrated by Mahershala Ali, the storylines are dramatic and compelling–a bit anthropomorphic in the telling, but as chimpanzees are humans’ closest living relative in the animal kingdom, it’s entirely forgivable. Again, in its brute simplicity and impact, this is Shakespeare as nature might write it.
In short, I’ve never been so riveted by a nature documentary. I loved it, and I hope they’ll do a season 2 so I can keep up with the chimps’ never-ending story.