This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: MVP: MOST VALUABLE PRIMATE
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Chimpanzee Jack has been trained by kindly Dr. Kendall to communicate with humans, but when the professor dies, his colleagues plan to send the chimp to become a laboratory test subject. Jack escapes, but ends up lost in a cold, isolated Canadian town. A lonely deaf girl named Tara finds him in a treehouse and takes him home. When she lets Jack try on her old ice skates, Tara and her brother Steven discover the chimp's a natural at hockey.
Soon Jack is playing for the local team, and the Nuggets seem destined for the championship. All the hype brings Jack to the attention of the scientists who worked with Dr. Kendall, who have been searching for the missing chimp. More than anything, Jack wants to go home to his mother at a nature preserve, but the researchers show up with custody papers. Tara and Steven must consider ending the Nuggets' playoff chances to save their friend.
Best For Ages:
2-5 - Little kids love the chimpanzee, but have trouble following the plot.
6-8 - Sports fans, animal lovers, and deaf children in particular will appreciate this film.
9-12 - Serious hockey followers may cringe, but the younger set will still enjoy the antics.
Educational Value: Many characters in this film speak or translate sign language, including the chimp.
Entertainment Value: A contrived but cute story about a chimpanzee's bond with two lonely kids. When he's on camera, the chimp steals the show, though it's occasionally obvious that different animals have been used for sequential shots.
Violence: Mild hockey fights.
Emotional intensity: Chimpanzee Jack misses the mother from whom he was separated in his youth.
Frightening situations: Scientists threaten to send Jack to a lab for medical experiments.
Mature themes: Jack's human mentor dies. The film portrays primates as playthings for humans.
A talented chimpanzee and a couple of fine performances by young actors redeem MVP's formulaic script. From the producers of AIR BUD, this film sticks with the winning combination of an adorable animal plus a major-league sport, in this case hockey. Jack, the aforementioned primate, learns to skate from a roller-blading janitor whom he helps at the university where he has been raised. When he finds himself transplanted into the cold climate of Canada, he tries ice skating and discovers a new calling. The film draws clever if strained parallels between the chimp's situation and that of Tara, whose deafness has isolated her from her classmates.
MVP doesn't concern itself with the ethics of raising intelligent animals to entertain humans, although Jack keeps insisting that his mother's nature preserve is home, not the university where he was trained to act live like a person. Jack gets up in the morning, takes a shower, dresses, brushes his teeth, gets his own cereal, and goes to work teaching students about how primates interact with people. A six-year-old viewer worried from the start that the chimp must miss his family, but although that theme recurs throughout the film and ultimately has a happy resolution, the Canadian family that takes him in makes little effort to learn about Jack's needs.
The young performers who play Tara and Steven have nice chemistry with one another and the chimp, though the film drags in the early stages when viewers watch Tara's isolation at school and Steven's frustration as a would-be hockey star. An over-the-top villain provides comic relief the film doesn't really need, since the chimp's silly faces and knack for causing trouble provide plenty of humor. The hockey games are slapstick in more ways than one but keep the pace lively.
Still, most kids are riveted when Jack is onscreen, and don't care very much about the plot otherwise. MVP contains enough humor to keep entire families entertained. In addition to AIR BUD, young sports fans will also enjoy GUS, the story of a field goal-kicking mule, while hockey fans may prefer the human antics of THE MIGHTY DUCKS.
Children's Television Reviews