The Jennie Project, based on the novel Jennie by Douglas Preston, is one of the most obscure DCOMs of the 2000s. I still haven’t figured out why it isn’t on Disney+. Dr. Hugo Archibald (Lance Guest, the alien dad of Stepsister from Planet Weird) is a scientist who rescues a chimpanzee whose pregnant mother was poached in East Africa. He brings the chimp, Jennie, home to live with his family temporarily. In the book, (per the author’s website), Jennie is based in part on the same chimp who was Curious George’s inspiration. In the 1930s, this chimp was brought up in Boston’s American Museum of Natural History, where the fictional Hugo Archibald works.
Jennie is a very active chimp. She makes big messes and does exactly what she wants whenever she wants. The Archibald family members have their ups and downs adjusting to Jennie. The kids love her, and Hugo is quite invested in her progress, but his wife Leah (understandably) struggles to welcome the mischievous primate into her home. Renowned primatologist Dr. Pamela Prentiss (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) is brought in to teach Jennie sign language and help her mature. Dr. Prentiss feels that Jennie is behaving too much like a human under the Archibalds’ care, so she begins to push for Jennie to stay at a primates research center. The Archibalds fight to keep her at home. Andrew Archibald (Alex D. Linz) feels neglected by his father, who travels often for research. Andrew is so upset about this that he rips up his dad’s grant acceptance letter for an upcoming trip. In the end, the entire family gets to go on the trip and be together.
In the final scene, they help Jennie re-enter her species — letting her go from their family so that she can be part of her birth family again. Andrew narrates the ending and explains that although his father has a scientific, orderly outlook, “Jennie taught him something: that we see the world not only through our eyes, but through our hearts.” This is a deeply moving scene, emotionally amplified by the music of prolific DCOM composer Phil Marshall along with Alan Williams. Alex D. Linz was nominated for a Young Artist award for his performance. I really hope to see this film on Disney+ so that subscribers of all ages can experience Jennie’s story.