Meet Maya, a macaque monkey who is just trying to survive in her group’s caste system in the beautiful jungles of Sri Lanka. Following last year’s “Bears,” Disneynature does it again with this year’s “Monkey Kingdom,” directed by Mark Linfield (“Earth”) and Alastair Fothergill (“Earth”), as it takes the viewer on an uplifting, stunning and family-friendly adventure.
The film opens with an introduction to Maya and the social order within her group. She is a lowborn, which means she is not allowed the same benefits as the other monkeys that are born above her — especially not by the group’s alpha male, Raja, or the three Sisters. These Sisters, related to only one another, are superior within the group; they are feared and feisty. They constantly put Maya in her place and aren’t to be messed with by the other monkeys. The film and Maya’s story is narrated by Tina Fey (“30 Rock”). Fey brings in her signature humor and seamlessly carries the story with the power of her voice.
Maya’s life kind of sucks: She has to wait until the other monkeys eat before she receives any food, and she gets the worst place to sleep. Things seem to change, though, as hunky and delicious Kumar, a male macaque looking for a new group to call home, comes into the picture. He soon locks eyes on Maya, and the rest is history — well, not quite. Complications arise, and Kumar has to leave, but not before getting Maya pregnant.
When Maya’s new baby son, Kip, arrives, Maya is faced with new responsibilities. Finding food for him is a constant struggle, especially when she’s of low rank and is a single mother. She gets creative in her ways of scoring food and steps up to her new role fabulously. Her role as mother and the bond she has with her child become remarkable gems in the film. The documentary goes on to capture Maya’s journey with Kip and her group as the class systems are put to the test and livelihood becomes ever more important.
The film’s visuals are stunning, taking the viewer to a part of the world with which they might not be familiar. Life for the monkeys is not a solitary one: The viewer is shown the other native animals with which the monkeys constantly interact. They then become introduced to and start to interact with a different kind of animal — the human.
The documentary takes the viewer into the surrounding cities, and the monkeys’ interactions in the urban jungle become a funny highlight as they run amok through vendor stalls and a nearby classroom. The juxtaposition between the natural world and the man-made urban realm becomes stark and beautiful, both image-wise and in regard to the storytelling.
By way of the various interactions within the animal kingdom, the viewer gets to see forms of food foraging, the habitat of the monkeys and their animal neighbors. While, yes, they are cute, the monkeys have struggles that aren’t unique — common struggles seen in everyday life. Yet the film is able to portray all of this while remaining lighthearted, and becomes visual fodder filled with landscapes and interactions, reaching a not-too-long 81 minutes.
The film breezes by in a flash, enchanting the viewer throughout. While documentary films can seem overly informational, “Monkey Kingdom” tries to venture from that. It succeeds in providing quality entertainment by giving information that, in fact, adds to the film’s story and themes of survival, family and life.
Because of a partnership with Conservation International, part of ticket proceeds during opening week will be donated to protect monkeys and other endangered species. Ultimately, “Monkey Kingdom” is a film that gives back and gives viewers a little more of a sense of the beauty of the world around them.
Contact Jeanette Zhukov at [email protected]