"Monkey Kingdom," Disneynature’s latest Earth Day offering, is an intriguing peek inside the social structure of macaque monkey society in Sri Lanka.
So while it has plenty of cute macaque monkeys, playing and cavorting, there’s also a little social commentary in the mirror the monkey movie holds up to us.
It’s about Maya, a young female trapped, by birth, among "the low-born." The alpha male and three testy red-faced queens, "the sisters," get the dry sleeping quarters, the ripest figs in the top of the tree, and the first pick of the mushrooms and assorted other fruits that make up the diet of their tribe of 50.
Maya, as Tina Fey narrates, "gets the scraps. This is what it means to be last in line."
When she has a baby by a displaced male looking for a community to join, her story becomes a single mom’s tale, protecting tiny Kip from a monitor lizard and other external dangers, as well as the cruelty of "the sisters" and an unjust social hierarchy.
Heavy stuff, not that the very young members of Generation ADHD will catch all of it.
But they may be bothered by the violence. Macaque cliques go at it, with their vampire fangs flashing and expressive eyebrows expressing rage in attacks designed to uproot Maya’s tribe from Castle Rock and the abandoned ancient Sri Lankan city that they call home.
"Monkey Kingdom" begins cloyingly, with frolicking set to "(Theme from) The Monkees." The arrival of Kumar, Maya’s monkey-love, prompts a cover of Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue’s "Whatta Man."
And even the violence and social commentary to come are leavened by comical food raids on humanity — a child’s birthday party is ruined, a town market is overwhelmed by wily, quick-witted and light-fingered macaques.
But entertainment value and catering to their very young audience aside, "Chimpanzee" filmmakers Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill never stray far from the overarching mission of Disney’s noblest film endeavor: capturing natural worlds and animal behavior at its rawest. The gorgeous flora and fauna of Sri Lanka are well-represented, even as the monkey business ranges from cute to cutesy.
Review by Roger Moore, Tribune News Service