Monkey Kingdom Review

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Since 2008, Disney has been releasing nature documentary films under its Disneynature film label. Under Disneynature, every ticket sold during the film’s opening week also acts as a donation to help out various organizations that gives back to our planet. For their latest outing, Disneynature teamed up with Conservation International for their film, Monkey Kingdom. Is Monkey Kingdom worth your time or are you better off donating straight to Conservation International?

Monkey Kingdom is definitely worth your time. It’s a touching and funny film that will definitely make you love our primate cousins even more.

Set in the majestic country of Sri Lanka, Monkey Kingdom follows the macaque, Maya, as she goes through an underdog story of forbidden love and social climbing.

Yes, you read that right: Social climbing. The film does a great job showcasing that these group of monkeys live under a class system similar to humans. Like the class system of feudal Japan, once you’re born into a particular class then you’re stuck there for life. The leader of the group is Raja, the alpha male of the clan. Under him are his three queens, otherwise known as the sisters. The three sisters control the day-to-day activities of the group and are very spiteful and unpleasant. Together they control and eat from a giant fig tree and they always get first dibs on anything in the jungle. Meanwhile, the lower classes scrounge for whatever scraps they find at the bottom of the tree.

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What makes Disneynature films so engaging is how they try to create a narrative out of the footage they captured in the wild. Maya’s underdog story is very similar to Cinderella in the way that the very likable Maya is treated by the “wicked” sisters. These sisters treat the clan like dirt and are pampered by the lower class monkeys. However, Maya survives by being very smart, resourceful and scrappy. Co-director Mark Linfield smartly structures the narrative to tell Maya’s story of repression, struggle and triumph. It’s the kind of story that all humans can relate to.

This is especially true when Maya becomes a mom. Most of the film revolves around this loving mother’s desperate search for food anywhere she can find it. Remember the higher class macaques have dibs on practically all the food in their domain, thus leaving Maya to search for creative ways to find food for her young son, Kip.

As with any other nature documentary, there is also an array of other animals in the film. A mongoose, sloth bears, leopards, peacocks, elephants and the dangerous monitor lizard all lend supporting roles in the film.

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Tina Fey (NBC’s “30 Rock”) narrates the film and does an excellent job of doing it with her somewhat sarcastic and funny commentary. No one can deliver a line like “Come on, Kumar. Play it cool man” like Tina Fey. However, some of the lines that Tina Fey says might make some eyes rolls. Both Linfield and his co-director Alastair Fothergill do an incredible job capturing the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. From the macaques’ home — dubbed Castle Rock — to the ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan city, the cinematography is quite jaw-dropping. It’s not quite BBC’s “Planet Earth” but it is still quite striking.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score suits the film quite well too. It isn’t the typical sentimental music found in most nature documentaries, but instead it’s a complementary score that enhances the visuals on screen. However, some of the pop songs used took away from the film. The use of the theme song from “The Monkees” is actually quite ingenious but the other songs featured in the film are distracting.

Overall, Monkey Kingdom is an engaging film that makes you realize that our primate cousins are more alike than we think. Maya’s story of a single mom doing whatever she can to take care of her son despite her lower class situation is very relatable. While the film’s docu-fiction narrative may detract some nature documentary purists, it certainly makes Monkey Kingdom a movie that all families can enjoy.

Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

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