‘Monkey Kingdom’ features stunning camerawork, powerful message

Kip is Maya's son, and both are featured in Disneynature's Monkey Kingdom — Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilson - Disney
Kip is Maya’s son, and both are featured in Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom — Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilson – Disney

Disneynature has become one of the most important cinematic projects of the last couple years. Bringing breathtaking documentary footage of the animal kingdom to audiences both young and old, the company has told vivid stories with stunning visuals. From Chimpanzee to Bears, Disneynature knows how to spin a nature-based yarn.

The latest entry, timed to celebrate Earth Day, is Monkey Kingdom, a look into a hierarchical network of macaque monkeys that have overtaken an abandoned city in the lush greenery of Sri Lanka. Opening week ticket sales will help Conservation International, an organization determined to conserve the planet and make it hospitable for humans and animals.

The main focus of the documentary, which features narration from Tina Fey, is a mother monkey given the name of Maya. Featuring an adorable haircut and distinctive features, Maya is a macaque who needs to deal with the mean-spirited exclusionary tactics of the troupe’s upper-crust monkeys. Besides Raja, the alpha male, there’s also the “Sisterhood,” a pair of sisters with blood-red faces who have no problem slapping their way to the top of the food chain.

Maya is left at the bottom of the fig tree, scavenging for the less-ripe fruit and trying to make an enjoyable life amid difficult circumstances. She finds her mate in Kumar, a visiting monkey with aspirations at becoming royalty. After mating with Maya, Kumar is driven from the monkey kingdom, leaving Maya to raise her new child, nicknamed Kip, by herself.

Kumar wants to be the new king in Monkey Kingdom — Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilson - Disney
Kumar wants to be the new king in Monkey Kingdom — Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilson – Disney

As the narration tells the audience, Maya is enamored of Kip. They hug each other in a mother-son embrace that is easy to gush over. His first uncertain steps and the lessons he learns about the wilds of the kingdom are both educational and adorable. Who doesn’t love seeing a baby animal?

Throughout the documentary, which has a rather short running time of approximately 80 minutes, Fey’s narration helps add some humor and scientific thoughts on what the audience is witnessing. There’s obviously some crafty editing and storytelling techniques that make Monkey Kingdom more entertaining, but the finished product is a mesmerizing feat of intricate camerawork and interesting story lines.

Monkeys are not the only animal featured. Audiences will also be able to see the rare sloth bear, a mongoose, monitor lizard, flying termites and some squirrels who have several unusual encounters with the macaques.

The final message of any Disneynature movie is that these beautiful images of wildlife are not to be taken for granted. With the continued destruction of habitat and the vanishing of wildlife around the globe, stories like Maya and Kip’s are becoming increasingly rare. That’s why seeing Monkey Kingdom in the first week couples education with action. Conservation International will take the donations and use them toward conservation in Indonesia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. That money will have a lasting effect, much like the lessons to be learned from Maya’s extraordinary story.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Monkey Kingdom
  • 2015
  • Directed by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill
  • Narrated by Tina Fey
  • Running time: 80 minutes
  • Rated G
  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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