I'm a big fan of the Disneynature documentaries and I always look forward their annual theatre release on Earth Day. Disney donates a portion of the opening weekend earnings to conservation efforts. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Monkey Kingdom during its opening weekend. However, I was happy that we managed to catch it before it left theatres. Nature documentaries demand the big screen experience.
PLOT- The 2015 Disneynature film is Monkey Kingdom, which follows a troop of Toque Macaques living in Sri Lanka. The documentary is narrated by Tina Fey and it primarily focuses on one monkey, Maya, as she struggles as one of the lowest rank females in the troop. Maya finds an opportunity to improve her situation, when a new male enters the troop and takes an interest in her.
LIKE- All of the Disneynature documentaries have gorgeous settings and Monkey Kingdom is no exception. A majority of the film takes place in the ruins of an abandoned temple in the forest. The humans are gone and the ruins have been taken over by monkeys and a few other animals. It's a stunning setting. At one point, some of the monkeys are driven out of the forest and they flee to a nearby city, where they must forage for food. The city makes for a dynamic setting, especially seeing the monkeys interacting with humans and navigating over electrical wires.
One of the more gripping scenes shows Maya swimming and looking for lily pods to feed herself and her baby. A humongous monitor lizard is the danger in the water and the lizard kills another monkey as Maya makes it to safety. It's intense.
The best part of Monkey Kingdom happens in the end credits, when we get to see clips of the film crew getting the shots. We see just how close they were to the animals, including having their jeeps chased by an angry elephant and having to wade in water, just feet from the monitor lizard.
DISLIKE- I'm torn about the narrative. Tina Fey was fine as the narrator, but I think that with Monkey Kingdom and some of the other more recent Disneynature efforts, there is too much emphasis on making a story out of the footage. There is far too much anthropomorphizing going on in the narrative. It's cutesy and unnecessary. I understand the importance of giving the animals names, so that we can follow certain animals and keep the "story" straight and the story does help to give a structure to the documentary, but it needed to have been scaled back.
I love animals and even spent many years volunteering at The Great Los Angeles Zoo, but I've never been a fan of monkeys. In particular, the Toque Macaques in this film were not endearing to me. I was reminded of an essay that I read many years ago by Tim Cahill, where he examines why we love and want to protect certain creatures and not others. I think he used to the term "Fuzzbie" to refer to those animals that we love, the ones that are cute. Well, this came to mind with Monkey Kingdom....those Toque Macaques lack the cute factor, including the babies. I loved the other animals, like the sloth bears, but the monkeys didn't grab me.
I spent many, many hours doing zoo observation research involving hierarchal structures, but even the focus on that didn't catch my interest here. In fact, it was hard watching Maya get so beat down by the higher up monkeys. This might be interesting to people who have not studied this, but I found it to be a dull revisit to a subject that I know well.
Monkey Kingdom seemed less serious and more kid friendly than the previous films in the series. Having said that, there was a family with six children ( toddler-preteens) in our screening and all of the kids were complaining of being bored. I don't think that this film has broad appeal and if your kid ( or you for that matter) are not interested in animals, then it might make for a dull afternoon at the movies.
RECOMMEND - Yes, but only if you really love nature documentaries. Monkey Kingdom was my least favorite in the Disneynature series. The winning part of Monkey Kingdom is the stunning scenery of Sri Lanka. It made me want to book a vacation.