Disneynature follows 2014’s “Bears” with its eighth release, “Monkey Kingdom.” Featured is a troop of macaques who live in a submerged ancient village in Sri Lanka. The heroine of this Monkey Kingdom is Maya (see photo above, center), a plucky gal who obediently holds a place at the bottom rung of the monkeys’ social ladder.
Maya is forced to eat from the bottom of the fruit tree while Raja, the troops’ alpha male, and his trio of lovely lady monkeys enjoy life at the top, where the fruit is sweet. Politics is in full swing in this tale of macaque life on Castle Rock, their home turf.
Maya gives birth to a son Kip. Her resourcefulness is put to the test when her BF, Kumar, is ousted from the troop. She wants the best for her youngster, even if it means challenging the caste system of her troop and thinking outside the box. Maya is a single mom with chutzpah and her knowledge of the jungle is her best asset.
A supporting cast of jungle creatures add to the drama. The troop shares Castle Rock with a wacky neighbor in the form of a mongoose. Also featured are elephants, bears, and dimwitted langur monkeys. A monitor lizard, a leopard, and a band of rival monkeys are the local antagonists.
It’s Tina Fey who saves the day with her wall-to-wall narration. While she might have given it a rest once or twice to allow us a moment to take in the glorious sights, her comedic timing and sarcasm help the film’s pace.
Director Mark Linfield and co-director Alastair Fothergill bring forth some lush jungle footage and an intimate peek into the life of the troop. Their talents reward us with magnificent scenes that make one wonder how it was done. (The question answered in the end credits.) Most notable is a majestic scene featuring the dance of flying termites and some underwater antics with the macaque foraging for treats.
The troop is portrayed with integrity, although a Disney-esque storyline is placed over their natural drama. The result doesn’t feel contrived, though it feels engineered at times. None of this takes away from the inherent delight of this hyperactive family of jumping monkeys.
The soundtrack also keeps the movie buoyant and has a comedic element of its own. The theme to the classic TV show “The Monkees” introduces the troop and a rendition of Salt-N-Pepa’s “What a Man” is a musical cue for Kumar’s entrance.
“Monkey Kingdom” is an adventure that takes viewers into the thick of the jungle and into the heart of a troop of intriguing macaque. It’s not just a lovely postcard from Sri Lanka; it really delves into life, loves, and loss.
Though there are a few dark moments when the jungle takes casualties, there is no blood or gore to frighten young audience members. Families will enjoy this adventure and will have a lot to talk about long after it has ended. Staying in your seat through the end credits is strongly suggested.
Documentary, rated G; run time 81 minutes.
All photos courtesy of Disneynature
Visit Disneynature’s “Monkey Kingdom” website for more information; parents and teachers will also find resources to share with youngsters.
During the movie’s opening week Disneynature will make a donation on your behalf to protect monkeys and other endangered species.