Monkey Kingdom

Monkey see, monkey do.

Monkey see, monkey do.

(2015) Nature Documentary (DisneyNature) Tina Fey (narrator). Directed by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill

What could be more fun than a barrel full of monkeys? Try an ancient Sri Lankan temple full of monkeys.

The latest nature documentary from Disney’s nature documentary arm once again enraptures us with incredible images of animals in their natural habitats just being themselves. In this case, we’re following a tribe of Macaque monkeys in an abandoned ancient temple that has largely been reclaimed by the jungle. We get to see monkey culture as very much a mirror of our own, with those at the top getting the best of everything and those at the bottom struggling to survive.

The heroine here is Maya, one of the bottom dwellers. She exists on whatever scraps of food she can find on the floor of the jungle. The tops of the fruit-laden fig trees are reserved for Raja, the alpha male and the Sisters, a trio of red-faced dowagers who serve as Raja’s support group. In monkey society, the sisters are essentially born into privilege whereas Raja earns his position by fighting his way to the top.

The social hierarchy is very strict and attempts to rise above one’s place is met with severe punishment. Maya’s outlook changes when she meets Kumar, a male who has been driven from his own tribe by their alpha male looking for a new tribe to join. Kumar is taken by Harold…I mean, Maya…and her cute-as-a-bug bowl haircut that resembles Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber. Eventually Maya ends up pregnant while Raja drives off Kumar when Kumar is a little too flippant with his status. Typical man, running away when responsibility calls, right?

Now Maya is a single mum and she’s not just trying to survive on her own but must eat enough so that her milk flows for her baby. To get the nutrition she needs she has to take a few chances and brave monitor lizards, human settlements and the wrath of the sisters in order to keep her child fed. The whole tribe however faces incredible adversity when another tribe invades their home and pushes them out. With many of the males injured and the tribe displaced, it is surprisingly Maya who leads the tribe to steal food from the humans and lick their wounds until they are sufficiently recovered to make an attempt to take back their home.

Like most DisneyNature films, the animals are anthropomorphized so that kids can identify with them, which to Disney executives is crucial I suppose although I think the executives would be surprised by how kids would identify with the animals without having to resort to making them characters. That’s just me talking though.

What DisneyNature does right in a big way is the footage itself. Did you know monkeys can swim underwater? I didn’t until now, and watching them hunt for lily pad seed pods under water is literally breathtaking. We get vistas of the Sri Lankan jungle, beautiful sunsets, winged termites rising by the thousands becoming a flying feast for the monkeys and so much more. The footage is absolutely transfixing.

The monkey battles are handled tastefully, including the death of one of the monkeys. However, the vision of angry monkeys screeching and galloping into battle like golden brown cruise missiles might upset children of a sensitive nature. You know your child well enough to know whether or not they can handle it. In general I think most children can; as I said, it’s handled with sensitivity but be aware in any case.

Despite my complaint about turning the animals into Disney characters, I still look forward to the DisneyNature films every year. Not only are they incredible to watch but Disney makes a real effort to call attention to issues within the biodiversity of this wondrous planet of ours. They also contribute financially to organizations who help preserve habitats and save entire species, so one has to give respect for that, although I’d love to see them do a film on black rhinos who are nearly extinct. Maybe in 2017. In any case, if naturalist Jane Goodall puts her stamp of approval on a film about monkeys – and she has on this one – you really can’t argue with that.

REASONS TO GO: Incredible footage of monkeys and their environs. Teaches us a bit about our own culture.
REASONS TO STAY: The usual bugaboo about humanizing animals. May be a bit too violent for sensitive children.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming was done in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chimpanzee
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: True Story

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