*** 1/2 out of 5
Article first published at The Reel Place.
Disneynature has brought quite the menagerie of documentaries since launching in 2008. The titles tell you all you need to know what each feature is about: Earth, The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, Oceans, Wings of Life, African Cats, Chimpanzee, and Bears. While not holding any surprises, they’re always full of beautiful cinematography, and plenty of “how did they even film that” moments. No strangers to Disneynature are directors Mark Linfield (Earth, Chimpanzee) and Alastair Fothergill (co-director on Linfield’s, along with African Cats and Bears). Is there as much to enjoy about their new Monkey Kingdom? Well at least you know what to expect.
Monkey Kingdom takes us to Sri Lanka, deep into the jungle to the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa. Here, we meet the hierarchy of a group of toque macaque, introducing us to our heroine, Maya. She lives her days under the rule of Raja (the alpha king), and his sisterhood. We learn that throughout the runtime, Maya will eventually beat the odds to make a better life for herself. Eventually, she sets her eyes on Kumar, who wants to join Raja’s clan on Castle Rock and fit in, but he’s ostracized after impregnating Maya. But it’s not all just eating winged termites and swinging on the jungle gym, because the evil Lex launches an assault on their titular kingdom and they must regroup to take back their beloved home, with Maya trying to juggle the hierarchy and taking care of her newborn Kip.
Monkey Kingdom comes narrated by Tina Fey who knows her way around line delivery enough to keep you as entertained with the narrated jokes as the onscreen monkey antics. Through the runtime, we do get to see a particularly interesting bit of footage showing the monkeys swimming. Fey asks, “Did you know monkeys can swim?” Of course we would assume so, after all, we can, right? Some of the more fun elements include the monkeys raiding a birthday party, and playing with a dog, but there are some more frightening elements on hand, like seeing a monitor lizard dragging away a monkey carcass, or the group paying their respects to a fallen comrade after Lex’s raid. However, everything is about what you’d expect in a scant 81 minute G-rated family film, with just enough to keep the young ones entertained, even if it doesn’t seem to try to educate you in the slightest.
*A note: for every ticket bought in the film’s first week of release, Disneynature, working in partnership with Conservation International, will make a donation in your honor to help protect habitat across Indonesia, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Benefiting hundreds of species and helping to protect fresh drinking water for local populations.